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Monday, June 24, 2019

Mid-Life Students Transition to New Careers at WCC

  • Robin Franco is part of a wave of displaced workers who are learning new skills in WCC classes.

Editor's note: This article is adapted from the Winter 2010 issue of WCC’s Career Focus magazine.

Stepping back in the classroom for the first time in 10, 20, or even 30 years can take a lot of courage. Although nearly 37 percent of college students are considered “non-traditional” because they’re over 25, there’s still a perception that college is for the young and carefree.

For some students, returning to the classroom in mid-life is an opportunity to finally realize their dream of a college education. Others take on the challenge only after a job loss and a growing realization that finding a new job means acquiring new skills. Either way, accepting the change and upheaval that come with this major life transition can be trying.

Just ask Jill Beauchamp, who teaches a class at WCC in career planning specifically for mid-life workers who are returning to college to train for a new career. “Every person has a different story,” she said, “but I see the whole range of reactions from pessimism to optimism to resignation.”

While many mid-life career changers feel that they’re at a disadvantage compared to younger students, in many ways they have an advantage: They know about the value of hard work, discipline, and delayed gratification.

At age 51 Robin Franco was excited about getting back to college after her employer, Metaldyne, shut down its Michigan operations. This was finally her chance to get the college education she’d always wanted. “My first day at WCC was the happiest day of my life,” she said. “I made good money in my last job and it provided for my family, but standing eight to 12 hours a day was taking a toll on my health. I’d dreamed of being a social worker since I was 19, and I finally was going to get a chance.”

Despite her excitement, she felt apprehension, too. “I’d been told in high school that I ‘wasn’t college material’ because of learning disabilities, so I was terrified of failing,” she said. She went to WCC’s Learning Support Services, where she found documentation for her disabilities that qualified her for extra support in the classroom.

Today she’s completed two semesters on the Dean’s List, thanks to her own persistence and the support services she found at WCC. “I was fortunate that my WCC counselor directed me to many of the resources I needed,” she said.

Now in her second year, she hopes to transfer to Eastern Michigan University next fall. “I love what I’m learning,” she said. “Going to college has really opened things up for me.”

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