Sunday, 28 April 2013

Dollars and Sense

This week on the Non-Traditional Student Blog, Elizabeth Sheppard wrote about the increasing number of mature students in the USA, and how universities there are doing more to support their mature students.
More and more schools are catering to nontraditional students, who are often older and going back to school after a break. I have seen Nontraditional Student clubs, special advising, and more choices in class times in the last five years or so, and I believe this trend will gain traction in the years to come.

Schools are offering more financial aid for older students too.
How different the situation here in New Zealand! The government has cut financial support for older students, and in doing so has sent a clear message to the publically-owned universities that they should be prioritising support for school leavers. At my own university, recent staff cuts have seen the loss of the dedicated adult student advisor who, among other things, ran a mentoring programme for mature students newly returned to study. While some individual departments still offer support for their mature students, you’d never know it from the university’s website – the only link I could find referring to adult student support just took me back to the generic student support page, squarely aimed at the 18-21 bracket.

A quick survey of the other universities shows a similar pattern. A few still offer dedicated support for mature students, but judging from their websites, the majority don’t even know we exist.

And really, who can blame them? In times of reduced budgets, it makes sense to cut support to a minority group (especially one that doesn’t have any special funding attached to it) in favour of providing more support to the majority. The government see more economic benefit in assisting school leavers who’ll have 40-odd years of working life ahead of them once they graduate, compared to a mature student who’s edging closer to retirement age.

But doesn’t that ignore the fact that it’s a rare person these days who hasn’t changed career and retrained multiple times over the course of their working life? Long gone are the days when you could assume your degree would stay relevant to your job forever. So shouldn’t the government be encouraging older people to go back to university and retrain to ensure their remaining years in work are as economically productive as possible?

Unfortunately that logic doesn’t seem to have occurred to the current government. But there’s a slight glimmer of hope from the Opposition. MP for Wigram Dr Megan Woods recently wrote:
Recent changes to the student loan scheme have meant post-graduates are no longer eligible for the student allowance while over 55s were stopped from accessing the student loan in 2011. The post-graduate cuts will likely result in many of our most talented students heading overseas to carry out research. If we lose them, we lose their skills and expertise at the very time we need more qualified people.
 Let’s hope she can convince some of her colleagues of the value of older students!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for mentioning my article. I have also read several articles that say that nontraditional students are becoming "the new normal."

    I bet it is only a matter of time before every country realizes this.

    I hope you can find more support for your nontraditional student journey. I have not researched Nontraditional Student groups in Australia, but it sounds like they are needed.

    Mature students are a valuable resource, I believe. They may not have upteen numbers of years left, but they have so much to offer - experience, wisdom, and lots of good old-fashioned experience.

    Thanks for sharing this posting.