Late Bloomers Find Success at College
> 10/20/2006 1:36:38 PM

For many American students, the path directly from high school to college is a given. Family pressure and the stresses of striving to compete in the contemporary job market play a large role in determining the academic future of American high-schoolers. Still, nearly one in five students drop out, and a larger number choose not to advance beyond their high school degree. Among those who do attend, a significant percentage do not finish. Some see a bleak future for young adults who've not completed some sort of post-secondary school, and in many cases they are correct. Hope is not all lost for these students, however, as many find a second academic wind through GED courses, community or technical colleges, and continuing ed programs at state schools.

One frequently cited example of this phenomenon is Smith College's Ada Comstock Scholars Program, designed for women aged anywhere from mid-20's to 60's whose educational careers were "interrupted" by personal or professional demands. A related 1983 Time Magazine article focused on the increasing levels of enrollment in Comstock and similar programs; since its publication, the number of adults, particularly women, who've become involved in such degree programs has risen exponentially.

Many American colleges, including esteemed Ivys like Harvard and Columbia, offer programs in general studies or continuing ed which tend focus on older students and grant them the ability to move at their own pace and design their own curriculum. Some might expect these specialty schools to attract mainly privledged students of a certain age who've been granted the opportunity to complete their long-neglected degrees, but the class makeup of programs like Comstock is surprisingly diverse, including parents, working men and women, and many in need of financial assistance.

A current New York Times article on the late-bloomer trend in American colleges highlights the case of a young woman who dropped out of high school and found herself in a series of dead-end jobs before beginning an inspiring journey through community college and into the Comstock program, where she flourished  personally and academically. While her case may be a fortunate exception to the rule, she remains confident that she made the right decision, advising others not to enter college unwilling or unprepared:

“Just because your child can’t focus on their future when you want them to doesn’t mean they can’t far surpass your expectations when they really do focus...If I had gone straight from high school to college, I would have flunked out and that would have been the end of it.” 

Some advertised degree programs add up to less than the sum of their parts, but for many Americans additional school can lead to new career oppportunities and self confidence. With several national organizations and a growing number of online programs devoted to helping them earn relevant degrees, continuing education students are not a fringe group, and their example should offer hope to Americans who feel that all academic doors have been closed to them.   

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