HOUSTON – Entering college as a nontraditional student 30 years older than your classmates could certainly evoke some mixed emotions.
"I said, 'No, I really think I'm too old for that'," said San Jacinto College (SJC) student Sharon Brannen, 50, of Clear Lake City. "After my marriage ended, someone asked me if I had thought about going back to school. The more I thought about it, the more interested I became with the idea."
Brannen completed continuing education courses in 1995 at College of the Mainland and worked for years as a licensed chemical dependency counselor. However, she longed for a degree to broaden her career opportunities within the field and decided to enroll at SJC South to study nursing. In Fall 2009, she joined the student group, Together in Education Support (T.I.E.S.), a campus organization that assists nontraditional students by helping them network with faculty, staff and other students in similar situations.
"These students often feel that they're in the minority; they look around and all they see are these young students straight out of high school," said Dr. Cheryl Fasullo, club sponsor and sociology professor whose research includes the topic of nontraditional students and retention. Fasullo said that in many instances, it is the nontraditional student who sets the example within the classroom.
"They bring a sense of how to be a student, how to ask questions and not be embarrassed," Fasullo said. "They bring what I like to call 'student savviness'."
The definition of nontraditional within a college setting has undergone significant change throughout the years, said Fasullo. Once a term used to describe older students, "nontraditional" now includes students who have taken breaks in their college education and parents who attend college.
"Nontraditional does not pertain to just age," Fasullo said. "You could be 19 years old with a child, or an 18-year-old high school graduate who is taking a break before entering college."
Similar to the North campus' Preparing Adults for College Excellence (PACE) and the Central campus Never Too Late (N2L) program, students in T.I.E.S. find themselves sharing ideas on balancing family and school, test-taking skills and test anxiety. Members meet each month and develop projects on how to engage current and future nontraditional students at SJC.
Brannen said returning to school was one of the best decisions she’s made and encourages others who are considering the same, regardless of age or family status.
"I absolutely love college,” she said. “If you have any thought at all about returning to school, do it. It's never too late to learn. I amaze myself every day."
San Jacinto College serves a diverse population of more than 27,000 students in over 140 degrees and certificates in university transfer and technical programs. The College also serves the community through workforce training. Students come with various goals and aspirations and we are committed to their success. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.
For more information about San Jacinto College, please visit www.sanjac.edu, or call 281-998-6150.