Macon State Makes Special
Effort To Reach Adult Students
Kimber Mathis, Marnico Brown and
Caroline Carter learn about the admissions process and academic
advising during a Getting Started seminar.
by Renee Pearman
By Renee Pearman
Charles Matson had not been in a classroom in 15 years when he
decided to return to college. Like most adults headed back to school
after an extended break, he was worried about the new technology
pervading higher education, specifically PCs, and the thought that
he might be the oldest student on campus.
"I was enrolled at the University of Georgia, and for one
of my first assignments, I had to go to the university library to
do research," Matson recalled. "I couldn't find the card
index anywhere. I finally asked someone who told me that card indexes,
as I remembered them, no longer existed. Everything I needed could
be accessed via computer, I was told, and that scared me to death."
The then 39-year-old Matson's worries were alleviated when he discovered
there was help from faculty, advisors, staff, tutors and even classmates
at every turn. And he also noticed, to his relief, that he was not
the only "older" student walking the hallways. In fact,
there were quite a few.
"And that's exactly the way it is at Macon State College,"
Matson said to a room full of adults contemplating beginning - or
returning to - college.
Matson, who is director of the respiratory therapy program at Macon
State, was one of several members of the MSC faculty and staff answering
questions posed by thirty- and fortysomethings attending a "Getting
Started" seminar at the college.
The New 'Tradition'
Thirty years ago, the majority of college students on campuses
across the country were "traditional" students, meaning
fresh-out-of-high school graduates, but not so today.
"Today's 'traditional' student looks more like you,"
MSC Admissions Director Terrell Mitchell told a recent Getting Started
audience, which included adults ranging in age from 23 to 45.
"The average age of an MSC student is 27," Mitchell said.
"Nearly half of our 4,600 students are age 25 or older, more
than 15 percent are at least 40 years old, and it certainly isn't
unusual to see students in their 50s and 60s headed to class."
This trend is nationwide, according to Harold Hodgkinson, director
of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Demographic Policy at the
Institute for Educational Leadership.
In an interview with The New York Times last year, Hodgkinson pointed
out that almost half of the 15 million students in college today
are adults with children and jobs. The "Joe College stereotype,"
as Hodgkinson referred to the 18- to 22-year-old full-time residential
student, now makes up only 20 percent of those 15 million.
Increasing the number of adult learners in the midstate was the
idea behind Getting Started when it was introduced by Macon State's
Admissions and Institutional Advancement offices more than 20 years
ago. Since then, admissions representatives have hosted two or three
evening seminars per year, reaching working adults who want to begin
college or finish their degree.
During the two-hour seminar, members of the faculty and staff meet
collectively and individually with potential students to discuss
programs of study, present an overview of the admissions procedures
and student life, and answer questions about selecting a major,
renewing study skills, applying for financial aid and transferring
Taking the First Step
Matson's library story drew nervous chuckles from several Getting
Started attendees who admitted to cyberphobia, as well as an aversion
to algebra. They also had questions about financial aid and scholarships,
time management and academic advising.
In the course of the evening, their questions were answered - and
fears eased -- by representatives of the Financial Aid Office, the
Academic Advising Center, the Academic Resource Center, the Counseling
and Career Center, and the Admissions Office.
From Kelly Jones, coordinator of the Academic Resource Center (ARC),
they learned that one-on-one peer tutoring and computer-assisted
learning will aid them in bolstering their proficiency in math and
English. Also at ARC, they will find tutors ready to instruct them
in computer basics. Academic advisors will help new students decide
on a course of study, while the Counseling and Career Center's career
specialist, Kelly Kernich, will work with them to determine career
interests and develop job search strategies.
Macon State Admissions Director
Terrell Mitchell greets early Getting Started arivals.
"We have someone to help you every step of the way,"
Mitchell told 23-year-old Bethany Ridgeway of Warner Robins, who
is interested in a career in marketing.
"After high school, I just wasn't ready for college,"
said Ridgeway, a 1996 graduate of Gilead Christian Academy in Macon.
"I'm a little older, and my life is a little more stable now,
and I feel like I'm ready to give college a try."
One incentive for Ridgeway, the mother of an 11-month-old, is that
her employer is willing to pay for her tuition. In addition to learning
about the admissions process, Ridgeway, who plans to attend college
part-time and work full-time, wanted tips on time management.
Vicki Richardson of Warner Robins has been out of high school for
28 years. She enrolled in Macon State classes at the Robins Resident
Center several years ago but had to withdraw due to job and financial
obligations. The 45-year-old, who is a budget analyst at Robins
AFB, wants to pursue a business degree. Her question to Mitchell
was simple: where do I start?
By the end of the seminar, Richardson had application and financial
aid information in hand, and she had met Dr. Larry Wolfenbarger,
chair of the Division of Business and Economics. "Faculty here
are a very student-oriented, congenial group of people," Wolfenbarger
Richardson had taken that first step.
A More Educated Georgia
Balancing a job, family and college studies is a challenge at best,
said Dee Minter, director of Enrollment Services at Macon State.
"Most adult students are hesitant about attending college
because they struggle with balancing family, work, college and additional
expenses for tuition," she said. "I commend students who
manage to juggle these responsibilities, and I know from personal
experience that it can be done. One way we can help adults is by
offering a flexible class schedule."
For example, Macon State offers a wide range of day and evening
classes on the main campus and at its two centers in Houston County.
And, while the regular semester runs 15 weeks, the college also
schedules two 8-week sessions each term, giving students more options.
In addition, the number of online courses continues to increase.
The fall schedule includes online courses in business, English,
health and information technology.
As for college expenses, the Macon State College Foundation supports
several scholarships that are specifically for adult students, and
for the past several years, the Foundation has offered the unique
"Stick Around" scholarship, which introduces MSC's recent
two-year graduates to its new bachelor degrees by paying the tuition
for their first course. (To learn more about the scholarships, visit
Their reasons for beginning or returning to college vary, but Minter
said most adult students indicate they are back in the classroom
because they want to make themselves more marketable.
"Some are preparing for a new career, others want to advance
in their workplace, and they all recognize that a college degree
will move them closer to their goals," Minter said. "When
Getting Started was created back in the early '80s, our main purpose
was to encourage older students to return to college to complete
their degree or to begin college and pursue a degree to give themselves
more employment options in the workplace."
That is one of the goals of the University System of Georgia's
Board of Regents, the governing body of the state's 34 public colleges
and universities. To expand higher education opportunities to all
citizens of Georgia, the Regents last year developed a strategic
plan called "A More Educated Georgia." Specifically targeted
by the plan are the so-called "non-traditional" students,
which usually include mature adults and even younger students who
have job and family responsibilities. Many students in this group
attend part-time and make up a majority of the nation's population
of college students. It is projected that their numbers will continue
to grow in the 21st century.
"Macon State College has a long history of serving adults
students," Minter said. "Our message to adult learners
is, and always has been, that they are welcome at Macon State and
that they will find here a rewarding place to begin or complete
The next Getting Started seminar will be at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday,
June 18, in the MSC Student Life Center. Call 471-2800 for more