Challenge of Being an Adult Student

I still remember this huge argument that I had with my classmates while attending Cal Poly SLO as an undergraduate. The professor decided to put her students in groups of 3-4 and have us do projects. Because I was living in Santa Maria at the time and was married with children, not many students were willing to include me in their groups. To make a long story short, the 19-year-old students who got “stuck” with me were angry that I was dragging down their grades. I still remember one of the students yelling at me in the hall way, “If I get a B, it’s because of you. And if I get a B, I won’t get into a law school. You are ruining my future. This is what I get for trying to be nice to people.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love Cal Poly SLO because its academically rigorous program that prepared me well for the future. However, it has never been a very adult learner friendly school. When I was looking to get my teaching credential, they only offered classes between 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM. Clearly no consideration for adult students with full time jobs. And I feel for the “kids” who had their whole life ahead of them, who got stuck with me as their group partner. After all, it was not their fault that I had children and was a second-language learner who was barely able to write college-level essays. I am certain that she felt betrayed by me and the professor for making things that much more difficult for her.

But in light of what happened over this past week while I was in school, I couldn’t help but wonder about how higher education institutions treat adult students. My dear friend Robin had to leave class during our last face-to-face sessions to be with her son who was diagnosed with cancer. One of the professors was worried that Pepperdine University would monetarily penalize her for not withdrawing quickly enough if she were to decide to take a leave of absence.

Robin and me

Robin and I, during our last face-to-face

Pepperdine Univeristy is a Christian university that values people. I have been extremely thrilled to be a part of this amazing university. I love my cadre members who are simply amazing people and highly intelligent scholars. I have learned so much from being a part of this institution. But if what my professor said were true, it still seems unable to truly foster adult learners whose needs are vastly different from young, single students who never have to deal with real life issues and whose focus is solely academic.

Let me be clear. I am not blaming the university. After all, an institution must have rules and regulations. I like that Pepperdine is a Christian university with Christina values. What I am saying is that the polices and procedures should somewhat match to those values. Robin shouldn’t have to decide to withdraw right this second simply because she might lose a big chunk of tuition money. She should be given time to figure things out without having to worry about that.

When my Cal Poly incident happened, I advocated for my classmates. I went up to the professor and pleaded with her to grade the group essay with the authorship in mind. I told her which part was mine and which parts were my classmates’. I don’t know what she did, but I hoped that she took my explanation into consideration. Turned out I got a B on the assignment, but ended up getting an A in the class. So I am assuming my group members got good grades as well. I have no idea since they stopped speaking to me after that.

Years later, I found out that the girl who was angry at me for “ruining” her life ended up getting into a law school. I doubt she remembers what she did that day. Still to this day, I am extremely hesitant to participate in group projects in fear that I might let my group down. I am overly sensitive to the quality of writing. She nearly stopped me from starting this blog.

But I also learned to persevere. I found people who have encouraged me to continue. People who remind me that I moved to another country, learned a new language, and became a teacher. I learned to ask for help from others who can edit and correct my writing. I learned to communicate my inadequacies with people up front, so they are aware of my shortcomings. Most importantly, I continue to work hard to become better at writing.

Robin has been posting her son’s progress online. The latest report said that he could be cancer free in 30 days due to the excellent treatment he has received. I am hopeful that this university I love will be kind to my friend as it has always been to me. I also hope that other higher educational instutions will reconsider how they treate adult students. We may not be the most astute researchers, but we have a lot to offer to the world as adults.

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