Eye on UCSD: Hitting the books. Again.

    Around campus, they may look like parents of UCSD students, but in the classroom, they are a small group of serious, older students.

    ARASH KESHMIRI/Guardian
    Thurgood Marshall College senior Lenore McCrory, 54, is one of many nontraditional students who return to college. McCrory will graduate June 17 with a degree in literature/English and will pursue a Ph.D in literature next year.

    And the population of these older students is indeed small. According to the student profile at the Registrar’s Office, as of fall 2005, there are 873 students over the age of 25 attending UCSD, comprising 4 percent of the overall student body.

    The reasons for this group’s reunion with academia may vary, but one common reason is what Thurgood Marshall College senior Lenore McCrory, 54, cites as a “real financial need” — not just a craving for intellectual discourse.

    “The older you are, the more difficult it is to get a job without a degree,” McCrory said.

    McCrory, who took college courses in the past but never completed a degree, is now a full-time student but also works as a part-time writing tutor. Transferring from Southwestern Community College in 2003, she will graduate this spring with a degree in literature/English and has recently been accepted into UCSD’s literature doctorate program. What began as an interest in elementary school teaching bloomed into a desire to be an English professor.

    “Little by little, the horizon expanded,” McCrory said.

    After high school, McCrory came to the United States from Mexico to learn English. She later realized that the difficulty learning the language motivated her to study literature later in her life.

    “I have no regrets about returning to school,” said McCrory, who wants to teach literature and composition once she receives her Ph.D. “My only regret is not doing it sooner, at least 10 years ago.”

    John Muir College senior and literature/writing major Gary Flynn, 37, is also a full-time student and is self-employed. He looks at school in a pragmatic way and devotes himself to his studies so that he may pursue something he really enjoys.

    “I have different time-management skills,” Flynn said about why he has a different outlook on college life. “I don’t want to make mistakes by slacking, plus I want to get my money’s worth.”

    Flynn did not pursue college immediately out of high school, as he was determined to experience the real world by working as a welder and fabricator, a trade he enjoyed.

    “I wanted to have an adult experience,” Flynn said. “I enjoyed working and thrived in working conditions. I had more satisfaction through labor than academia.”

    Now, Flynn is eager to pursue a career in children’s literature where he will write books for preteens and teens.

    Muir senior Kali Chatfield, 54, is a part-time student but works full time as a consultant and project manager for a Fortune 125 insurance corporation. She works 40 to 55 hours a week and is only enrolled in four units per quarter.

    “Coming back to school had its advantages and disadvantages,” Chatfield said. “Life experiences give you a better understanding of certain things.”

    Chatfield was accepted to UCSD out of high school, but was distracted from her plans and moved to Mississippi. Chatfield is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in literature/English.

    All three students stressed how competitive it is to get a job and encourage current students to stay in school while they are still young and not responsible for dependents.

    Flynn, now a husband and father, is able to experience the life of a college student, which he lost years ago.

    “I just want to get a good job and provide for my kids,” Flynn said.

    For Chatfield, it is the satisfaction of completing her degree that motivates her.

    “Pride,” Chatfield said when asked why she returned to school. “A desire to finish what was started.”

    Chatfield has two children and a supportive husband who picks up the slack at home when she has to work longer hours. She does not plan to change careers or companies once she is finished.

    McCrory said that a younger environment intimidates her, but she always had an adventurous spirit and a thirst for learning, which is what brought her to the United States.

    “It’s not easy, but it has been a wonderful experience and I feel extremely lucky to have been accepted [into UCSD],” McCrory said.

    Though Flynn, Chatfield and McCrory feel that the return to school was the best decision they could have ever made, Chatfield advised: “Do it now. Take out loans, do whatever it takes. Life happens, just focus on education and then let [life] happen.”

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