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Kimberly OusleyReasons to Smile
By Kimberly K. Ousley

Intently concentrating on my shopping list, shutting out distractions around me in the school supply aisle at Wal-mart, I was suddenly startled by a familiar voice of an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages.

“Hey, Kim! Are you going broke yet spending a fortune on school supplies for your son?”

Amy, a mother of four, tosses boxes of crayons into her full cart of school clothes and supplies. I imagine she’s spending her whole paycheck on them.

“No. These supplies are actually for me. I’m in school working on my degree.” I smile with pride, sort of like a child who just gave her mom her best rendering of the family to hang on the kitchen fridge. Amy’s jaw drops as if I just told her I plan to be a brain surgeon.

“Wow! How are you doing it?”

“Well, that’s a long story….”

As we catch up on six years of each other’s lives, I explain to her the condensed version of being downsized at my last job and making the switch to school in hopes of a better paycheck someday.

To follow a dream, achieve a personal goal and get a better job were the top three reasons on my list to plunge into the abyss of textbooks and late night cram sessions at the age of 30-something. After being downsized for the fourth time in eight years due to a struggling economy in a factory town, I knew going back to school was my only other option regardless of the sparse change jangling in my pockets.

I am only one of about 20.8 percent of college students age 35 and over going back to school, according to recent studies from the Census Bureau. Two major reasons for baby boomers heading back to the classroom are job loss and the need for job security due to constantly changing technology. Women who want to re-enter the work force after their children head off to college or who went through a divorce are also determining factors. This rising student demographic means increased revenue for many universities who are developing special programs for adults needing to further their education or change careers.

Terri Gibson, a mother of four majoring in education at Anderson University, says many women her age (40 plus) need a sense of fulfillment after raising their kids. “I want to make a difference in other’s lives as well as provide an income for myself,” she said. For Betty Bricker, another student at Anderson, getting a degree would determine whether she would get to keep her job in social work when her company was downsized. She was informed that a bachelor’s degree was required to keep the position. “Two of my daughters were students at Anderson and they told me about the adult education students in their classes,” said Bricker. “They encouraged me to check it out, and when I did they thought it was great that I was going to be there with them.”

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