Surge in mature students reflects tough job market

Universities across Canada report a growing number of mature undergraduates – typically adults older than 25 who have taken more than a year off school – who are choosing to study full time in order to find new careers or increase their competitive edge in a job market that is still reeling from the economic downturn, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 3.

“They really understand that in order to advance in their careers they need that education,” said Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York’s associate vice-president, academic learning initiatives and director of the Atkinson Centre for Mature & Part-Time Students (ACMAPS). “And they’re willing to get it as quickly as possible.”

For some who are unemployed, university offers them a place to shelter out the storm. Others see a degree as a way to bolster their chance of keeping their job. “In the current economic environment there are people who feel they’re vulnerable without a degree,” Fisher-Stitt said.

At York, one-fifth of the student population in the last academic year were mature students, and 61 per cent of the mature students were enrolled full time. Those numbers have steadily increased over the past four years, Fisher-Stitt said.

“How many people are here to advance their careers?” Brian Poser, associate director at ACMAPS, asked a room of 130 new mature students during this week’s orientation. Nearly everyone raised their hand.

Some mature students, such as Patricia van Oostveen, are taking classes for the pure pleasure of it. They are studying topics they were not able to study when they first entered the workforce. Van Oostveen, 49, has just enrolled full time in the Visual Arts Program at York. Her first classes start Sept. 13. “I wouldn’t have done a bachelor of fine arts 32 years ago,” she said with a grin.

Adult learners tend to face more challenges when they do decide to go back to school. They often have more responsibilities, such as caring for their families or keeping a job, Fisher-Stitt said. Doubt in their own abilities as students is another major anxiety. Many mature students worry that they won’t be able to keep up with their younger classmates in a formal learning environment.

“I haven’t written a paper in over 20 years,” Van Oostveen said quietly. But, despite her fears, she said she had no doubts about wanting to jump in with both feet. “We can learn at any age,” she said. “I thought, if I was going to do it, I’d do it full time.”

Canada invests in research, grad students

The Honourable Tony Clement, minister of industry, announced a significant federal investment to further the development of talent and knowledge among Canada’s top scholars in the social sciences and humanities, wrote Flin Flon, Man.’s The Daily Reminder Sept. 2.

Through grants and scholarships awarded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), these investments, totalling some $190.5 million, will support nearly 4,000 of Canada’s best researchers.

Some of the research funded will examine:

– The success of microcredit programs for economic development – Brenda Spotton Visano, professor of economics and public policy & administration, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, York University.

Illumination of Sharon Temple marks harvest

To mark the beginning of each harvest season, the Sharon Temple is lit in 19th-century fashion, wrote the Newmarket Era Sept. 2. The ceremony starts Friday at 7pm with the featured event starting at 8pm.

The night will also feature William Westfall, a history professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who will recall how the Children of Peace strived for social justice and instilled the importance of philanthropy in the community.

On air

  • Faculty members in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School were in demand on Sept. 2 as commentators on the controversy over a Manitoba judge whose husband posted nude photos of her on the Internet. Professor Trevor Farrow spoke on CBC Radio’s “World Report”. Comments by his colleague Professor Bruce Ryder on the case also were discussed on AM640 Radio. Allan Hutchinson spoke about the case on CKTB Radio in St. Catharines and Dean Lorne Sossin was interviewed about the story on CFRB Radio.
  • Jason Gibbs (PhD ’10) a biology researcher in York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies, spoke about his discovery of a new species of bees on CBC Radio’s “As it Happens” Sept. 2.