College for the over-40 set

Jerry Mitchell, like many other ARC students over the age of 40, is looking for a fresh start. (Photo by Bryce Fraser)

Jerry Mitchell is representative of a large segment of people attending American River College, mature students. Mature can be defined in many ways, but for the  this article we will use the age of 40 and above.

Mitchell, 45, a radiology major, plans to obtain an Associates Degree and transfer to Sacramento State in 2013. His work history includes more than 10 years as a District Manager at McDonalds and recently 12 years as a District Manager for Walmart in Los Angeles.

“For the last 25 years I made people follow the rules,” said Mitchell. “At work we had a manual and it was law. Just follow the manual. It was simple, easy, and I was able to take care of my family.”

Things changed when his position at Walmart was eliminated.  “I didn’t have a degree, so I couldn’t get a higher position,” said Mitchell. “When they start cutting, they look for reasons to cut you.” He was offered a lower position, but declined the offer. Instead Mitchell decided to resign, accept severance pay, and start on a new path.That path led him to ARC and a new career goal.

Kim Gardner, Financial Aid Officer, finds older students can be intimidated by many things such as being online and having to work on computers. “Most are more comfortable with meeting in person,” said Gardner. “Things are so different from 20 or 30 years ago.”

Accounting major, Analee Cenatiempo, 53, returned to school due to unfinished business.  “I started my accounting major 30 years ago,” said Cenatiempo. “I was partying, having a great time, and did not finish. I’m going [to school] now to learn. I’m not concerned about social life.”

Many older students feel pressure to know the answer to questions they have never given any thought to. “This critical thinking, it’s not in my language,” said Mitchell. “There is an assumption I should know certain things. In my opinion, they are programming us to think and believe a certain way. “They want us to think critically, but they want us to think critically in their way.”

One area that can be difficult for older students is math. “It takes a lot of their time and effort,” said Galina Borishkevich, Learning Resource Center math tutor,   “It’s really hard for them. Because of their age, they’re expected to know.  They feel bad if they are taking lower level math classes.” Mitchell, in his seventh week of Chemistry feels the class goes so fast. “It’s hard for me to move on if I don’t understand,” said Mitchell.

The good news is many older students are thriving. “It’s been a real positive experience [for students]” said Gardner. “Self empowerment and feeling good about themselves. There’s nothing wrong with coming back to school in your 50’s.”

Mitchell is determined to complete his goal. “I like school, it’s expanding my horizons,” said Mitchell. “I can see things from a different point of view and am changing my core beliefs. It’s hard right now, but this is for me.  I refuse to give up. Its rough and I get frustrated, but, it’s all worth it.”

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