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Is Your College Ageist?

Sep 29, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 3 Comments

 According to a survey by the American Council on Education, approximately 27% of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 participated in work-related college courses in 2005—and 21% attended school for personal interest. That’s millions of older adults returning to school. Many colleges have gone the extra mile in making older adult students feel welcome. But others are behind the times.

While outright ageist comments and discriminatory practices are rare, there are plenty of signs that your school hasn’t quite caught up to the times—and that they still imagine their ideal student as an 18-year-old co-ed with a freshly minted high school graduation diploma. Here are a few signs that your college hasn’t quite caught up. 

Non Traditional Students

Some colleges may truly harbor ageist attitudes—but many simply haven’t caught up with the times.

There are no scholarships for nontraditional students

If your college offers only scholarships for traditional students, it may indicate that they aren’t considering that nontraditional students are part of their student body. A college that offers grants and scholarships geared specifically toward older adults is more aware that enrollment of people over 25 is rising—13% between 1995 and 2006—and wants to actively recruit older students into their classrooms.

There are few or no night or weekend classe

Older adult students
don’t always have free time during regular business hours—and yet many colleges still offer the bulk of their classes during these hours. If your college doesn’t offer a wider range of class times, it sends a message that they’re not aware of the needs of students who may work full-time during the day—and that means older students.

Marketing materials concentrate on traditional students

Go through the school’s website or brochure. If they’re constantly referring to their student body as “young men and women,” it’s not a good sign. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the school is actively ageist—but it does mean that they have one picture of what their typical student looks like, and it’s not an older adult student.

Acceptance rates are higher for younger students. Not all colleges document their acceptance rates—but some do. And it’s not unusual for a larger percentage of traditional-aged students—those around the ages of 18 or so—to get accepted to school than older, nontraditional students. Google your school’s acceptance stats by age and see what comes up. If you can find the data and it looks like older adults are accepted at lower rates than their younger counterparts, it may be a negative sign.

There is no clear entry path for nontraditional students

Nontraditional students may not have a current SAT score. They might have difficulty listing their extracurriculars from college, especially if it was a long time ago, and they may have existing college credits or job experience that they’d like to transfer toward a degree at a new school.

If your school offers a path for nontraditional student admissions that accommodates reality for most adult students, it’s a very good sign. Look for a college that will let you take an admissions test to gauge your skills if you haven’t taken an SAT in some time, or that will give you college credit for your previous college or life experience.

You can’t transfer credit or earn credit for life experience

Legitimate life experience credits are often hard to earn. You will probably have to undergo an exhaustive examination process to prove that your life experience really is the equivalent of certain classes that you’d like to earn credit for. You may have to go through several interviews, write an essay, and assemble a portfolio of your work—only to earn a mere handful of credits at the end. But it’s better than nothing.

Also, if you’re an older adult, you may have some college credits already from an earlier period at college.  If your college has no flexibility in terms of life experience and existing credit, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are consciously ageist—but nontraditional students, including older adults, are more likely to suffer from those policies.

Some colleges may truly harbor ageist attitudes—but many simply haven’t caught up with the times. If you find that your school meets one or more of these criteria, consider the situation. A well-timed letter to the student newspaper or the Dean could be enough to call attention to the problem. If you’ve been outright rejected or have received less financial aid solely because of your age, you may have a case in court.



Santefephoto Over a year ago

I am a non-traditional student in the over 55 category. I am majoring in journalism and am in my third semester on the college newspaper. I have been the news editor for two semester, and was the opinion editor the first semester. I am one of the main writers and have been dedicated to being as perfect as possible in this position.

Last summer I was approached to be the Editor-in-Chief of the paper if the current one did not come back to college. During last semester, I was told to learn the job for when the current one graduates. So I have been doing this and doing quite well at it, according to my advisor.

I was supposed to be the associate editor-in-chief until a former student who had done it before showed up after being out of school for a year, so I got bumped out of that job (though I am performing many of those duties).

I suspect that I will bumped out of the Editor-in-Chief job once again by someone much less experienced. At the end of the current semester, I will be the one person with the most experience.

A remark was made to an "Advertising major" who is writing that he should take charge as second in command right now (one semester in publishing and he doesn't write or know nearly as much as I do about the process or writing).

I know at the beginning of the semester, when the Editors were being introduced to the new staff, I was referred to as the non-traditional student and"he wasn't quite sure what I was in relation to what students are.

I know I have the skills and dedication, and I pulled a 4 point last semester, and was carrying a 3.85 prior to that. My photography is being used in the instructors classes as examples of photojournalism and I have done excellent interviews with people like Adrian Cronauer, Condoleeza Rice, Chelsey Sullenberger, among others. More recently, I set up interviews with Rocky Anderson (presidential candidate for the Justice Party. I am used as one of the examples as a writer and the instructor says I do excellent work. My skills at laying a paper out are also excellent.

I considered buying a small town paper and getting it up and running again. My instructor/advisor told me I was more than capable and qualified to run a paper if I was serious. He added, that at my age, it would be a good a "hobby." I wasn't thinking in terms of some hobby, but a serious occupation. But at my age, apparantly he didn't think that was an option. It was very discouraging to be told that.

The undercurrent that I will not get the position as the Editor-in-Chief in order to give it to one of the young students remains....because they have a future. There are always excuses, even though I am the most qualified and the obvious choice for the job (but I am not one of the young students).

I sent the advisor an email this weekend, asking him if I should continue learning all the aspects of the position as I was told to. I look forward to seeing what is said next week.

It gets old hearing the excuses, when I know what is actually at the core of the problem.


Santefephoto Over a year ago

I will add a few more things to my previous post.

I am a paralegal and I was published before returning to school to get a degree in journalism.

SarahRi Over a year ago

It's unfortuate that some colleges and professors are ageist and discrimate against older people. I would encourage you to continue to pursue your dream of buying a small town paper and making it your occupation!

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