Mature Students: What Are Post-Secondary Institutions Offering To Them?
by Consuelo Solar
Kym Chan Chow is a commerce and finance student at Ryerson University. At 28, she is what post-secondary institutions categorize as a “mature student,” someone 21 years or older, who has been out of the educational system for at least two years before enrolling in a degree program. In Trinidad and Tobago, Chan Chow had a good job and financial independence, but she knew that only by obtaining a degree she would feel completely fulfilled. She came to Canada with that goal in mind.
Three years later, with only two more terms to go, she still feels the pressure of being a mature student. “Most of my friends are already professionals, and I am always the one that has to leave early because I have an assignment or a group project the next day, so I think the most difficult part has to do with my self-esteem and seeing my friends having a different life style,” she admits.
Chan Chow is thankful, however, for the assistance she receives from her peers and the university. She currently works for the Tri-mentoring program, which helps diverse students transition into university, and she also participates in mature students social events and workshops. “There are so many groups and opportunities available, and being involved has helped me a lot, because I have found so much support,” she says.
One of the many workshops offered by her university is called ‘Stress and the Mature Student’, conducted by Joanna Holt, counsellor of the Centre for Student Development and Counselling at Ryerson. She started it seven years ago, responding to the need of addressing challenges that differ from those of younger students.
Holt describes, “Many mature students have to juggle not only the academics, but also their families; some of them have aging parents, as well as young children. There are individuals who come with great work experience and they have to begin to transition that knowledge base and make it useful for their academic life.”
During the workshop, Holt talks about stress as a normal reaction to change, and she teaches strategies to manage it. “They learn how to negotiate between academic, family, friendship and employment demands, because you can easily feel pulled in all directions. We talk about self-care, and how to involve your family and help them understand that this is your new job,” she explains.
According to Holt, mature students are often vulnerable to dropping out. “There is a matter of self-esteem, and doubting they’ll be able to handle the academic work.” She adds, “For them we have excellent support, like the Learning Success Centre, which focuses on enhancing academic skills, offering workshops and seminars that are also available online.”
Services like these are not offered by all postsecondary institutions across Ontario, and Edward Fenner, founder of York University Mature Students Organization (YUMSO), made his mission to obtain them. In 2004 Fenner became an undergraduate student after 20 years of freelance work, and when he realized there weren't services tailored to mature students – like a quieter place to study, for example – he started YUMSO to meet others like him and demand collaboration from York.
"Some people compare coming back to school with having another child or a part-time job because it does take a significant amount of time," he remarks. Getting assistance to manage time and responsibilities was one of his reasons to help launch the Atkinson Centre for Mature and Part–time Students, which offers support through orientations, the 'Mature Student Success Program' (which includes ongoing workshops and speakers series), and a Parent Support Group, among other services.
Fenner thinks YUMSO has succeeded in getting York to serve adult learners because they are not afraid to demand things. "Have a goal and start asking questions, show no fear in asking, because people here are trying to help you achieve that goal," he advises other mature students.
Ryan Guest, Liaison Officer of George Brown College, points out that financial strain can be another difficulty for many mature students, who often have other monetary obligations. “We encourage them to take advantage of awards, bursaries and scholarships. Students also have access to free counsellors, career and academic advisors; all of whom provide support to ensure their success. Our Student Affairs department delivers workshops such as ‘Studying with Children Around’, ‘Time Management’ and ‘Succeeding as a Mature Student,” he says.
Like Chan Chow, many mature students thrive when they come back to school. She thinks it was a great decision, and feels fully integrated. “After a while the age is not an issue anymore. When you get into the school work and start doing what you came here to do, it really doesn’t make a difference.”