College students not as young as they used to be

On college campuses like Cambrian in Sudbury, it is no longer unusual to see students in their 40s or 50s, with more and more people going back to school later in life.

Now only 32 per cent of college applicants in Ontario are high school students

Hector Rivera, 54, went back to school to study human resources management at Cambrian College in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

On college campuses like Cambrian in Sudbury, it is no longer unusual to see students in their 40s or 50s, with more and more people going back to school later in life.

About 60 per cent of Cambrian students don't come directly out of high school and provincially the number of students over 20 is rising steadily, now at 43 per cent.

For Hector Rivera, a 54-year-old human resources student, it means trying to juggle classes and group work sessions with giving his kids a ride somewhere.

He says deciding to go back to school (back in his native Mexico he was a veterinarian and a soap opera actor) was a big financial decision and involved asking his children to make sacrifices in their spending.

"It's an example for the kids. You are working, you are trying to get better no matter what. It's hard, but you're going to get there," says Rivera.

Jaymie Werner, a 52-year-old Cambrian nursing student originally from the small northern Ontario town of Kenabeek, says she sees so many older faces around campus that she doesn't feel as out of place as she thought she might.

"There are lots of mature students around, but I thought I was probably more mature than most. But I'm not the oldest in the class," says Werner, who previously worked as a high school teacher.

Many of the so-called mature students come to college through the Second Career program, which provides free re-training for laid off workers.

Jesse Patterson, 34, enrolled in the HVAC program at Cambrian College after getting laid off from his warehouse job. (Erik White/CBC )

Jesse Patterson, a 34-year-old father of two, enrolled in the heating and air conditioning program after being laid off from his warehouse job.

But he was afraid his classmates would see someone his age returning to school as a failure.

"I hadn't been in a classroom or taken a test or anything like that since I was 19, 20 years old," says Patterson.

"I definitely thought I'd be coming in as the old grey beard and just sit in the back of the class and mind my own business."

Cambrian's student government, the Student Administrative Council, now has a director of mature student affairs to represent their concerns.

Jessica Ryan herself is back in college at 26 to study paramedic medicine.

She says mature students are difficult to track because their lives don't revolve around campus like their younger counterparts.

School in 'smaller bites'

"A lot of mature students know what they want. If you've worked to be where you are and you're paying the tuition on your own and you're supporting yourself, you tend to be a bit more serious about your studies," Ryan says.

She says many mature students talk to her about the need for on campus daycare, something many colleges, including Cambrian, got rid of in recent years.

But Linda Franklin, the president of Colleges Ontario, says the discussion on how to better accomodate mature students is more centred on the education itself and whether the aging student population would prefer it in "smaller bites"

"Do you do some of this programming at 6:30 in the morning so they can do it before they go to work? Do you have colleges that have to embed themselves in workplaces to provide training on the spot over the lunch hour?" she says.