Posted on December 1, 2012
Caring for the Adult Student
The University of Scranton, a nationally recognized Jesuit university located in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains region, has partnered with The Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation in offering scholarships to Mature Students since 1983. The Newcombe Foundation celebrates Scranton’s commitment to providing educational opportunities and individual support for non-traditional students.
The Latin phrase cura personalis has special significance at The University of Scranton. Translated to mean “care for the whole person with respect for the uniqueness of each,” the phrase is more than just a motto for the northeastern Pennsylvania institution – it’s a way of life.
The University of Scranton uses cura personalis as a foundation to build its curriculum and a guide for the way it engages with students. This philosophy ensures that each student receives an education that meets them where they are in life and addresses their individual needs.
No area exemplifies the spirit of cura personalis better than the support adult and non-traditional students receive from faculty and staff.
From working mothers to veterans and senior citizens, non-traditional students face unique obstacles as they work toward academic degrees. Many adult students have outdated transcripts, confusing credit transfers and tons of paperwork to complete. Others have to build their class schedules around work, family and finances.
Scranton eliminates the confusion and puts students in a position to succeed.
“We truly look at the whole person in the advising process because these students come to us from a different place,” College of Graduate and Continuing Education advisor Ginger Egan said. “We keep in touch with our students as people, not as just another person coming in who needs another class. We know their story.”
It’s through knowing these stories that Scranton tailors its services to meet the needs of its adult students. Work a full-time job? The advising office at the College of Graduate and Continuing Education offers extended hours with admissions representatives who work exclusively with adult students. Need a specific class to graduate, but have limited availability in your work schedule? Adult students receive priority in scheduling to secure a schedule that fits with their life.
Jessica Strasser, 24, is a continuing education student who works part time and lives an hour away from the Scranton campus. Rather than making multiple trips a day or spending 12 hours on campus, Strasser said advisors worked with her to develop a schedule that maximized her commute and that allowed her to continue working.
Jessica Strasser, Newcombe Scholar at the University of Scranton
“My classes are grouped together relatively well so I might have a short break in the middle of the day and then I finish up with my evening classes. So, I don’t go back and forth excessively,” Strasser said. “My advisor has been great.”
Strasser said advisors also helped her find the financial means for college. Unlike many traditional students who easily qualify for financial aid, adult students are often financially responsible for their families and have less access to aid than traditional students.
Last semester, Strasser recalls she was prepared to take out additional loans to cover expenses, but instead was told about the Newcombe Scholarship, which offers financial aid to adult students. She applied and was accepted. As a result, instead of worrying about money, Strasser focused her attention on her studies.
“It helped so much,” Strasser said. “I didn’t have to take out another loan and it made it more comfortable.”
The scholarship also provided Strasser with a sense of accomplishment and community in the University, which can be challenging for some adult students. She wasn’t just a part-time commuter student; she was a scholarship award winner in The University of Scranton family.
“I felt rewarded for the hard work I had been putting into school, being there for long hours and studying hard,” Strasser said.
Scholarship opportunities aren’t the only perk afforded to adult students at Scranton. The University also offers several clubs and programs, including special student organizations for adult students, a veterans group for adult females, and a position on the Committee on the Status of Women for an adult undergraduate student.
Scranton strives to make each student feel like a part of the University community and believes these clubs help relieve some of the uneasiness adult students have about returning to school surrounded by younger students.
The University of Scranton’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) is another outstanding resource for adult students, offering specialized tutoring in a variety of subjects. Through the CTLE, adult students who struggle to make the transition back to college can get a refresher course or more in-depth assistance.
“Sometimes we have people come back and they’re a little math-phobic,” Egan explained. “If they’re in their 40s and they haven’t had a math class since high school, they feel intimidated. We can send them to the CTLE and teachers there work with students individually in math to get them back up to speed.”
Linda Quinlan, 73, returned to college four years ago after a 30-year hiatus. She said adjusting to college in a different generation was difficult, but she explained that the tutoring offered at the CTLE helped bridge the gap. Quinlan often spent evenings at the kitchen table with her two grandchildren completing their homework together. But when the work became too difficult to figure out on her own, she took the two grandchildren with her to the CTLE and they all learned it together.
“I didn’t want my grandchildren to see me quit,” Quinlan said. “Everyone needs as much education as they can get. I want my grandchildren to see that.”
Linda Quinlan celebrates her graduation from The University of Scranton
The prospect of quitting is the “elephant in the room” for every adult learner, Egan explained. With work and life making studying difficult, cutting education out of one’s commitments is the easiest option. That’s why Egan says one of her most important jobs is being a source of confidence for her students. She finds solutions to their problems – a change in schedule, a tutor – but never lets them quit.
“Sometimes students are in my office and they’re saying ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do it anymore. I’m withdrawing.’ And I say, ‘You can’t. I won’t let you,'” Egan said. “You can’t let them be defeated. Part of my job is being a cheerleader.”
Egan understands the challenges facing continuing education students because she was once one herself. It took her 30 years to complete her undergraduate degree and then nearly another 3 to get her master’s.
“I am the poster child,” Egan said. “I’m an older person who has gone back and been in a class with 18- and 19-year-olds. I tell the students that they can do it. If I can do it, they can do it.” It’s those difficult moments, however, that make the successes so rewarding, Egan explained. After assisting students through their lowest points, seeing them at graduation is one of the best parts of her job.
“The hugs at commencement are amazing,” Egan said. “I feel like I’m flying across the stage with them.”
Strasser is more than a year away from graduation, but she knows she’ll make it. Emboldened by a second chance at college, she takes her education more seriously than ever and knows all it can offer. She said she’s thankful for the opportunity, but even more excited about her future.
“I know it’s far away, but I know it’ll go by quickly,” Strasser said. “I’m so excited and my family is excited for me.”
For more information about services for adult students at The University of Scranton, please visit www.scranton.edu.