Redefining Back to SchoolAugust 21, 2008
Two months ago I submitted my first AAUW blog post about my journey from Campinas, Brazil, where I was working as a high school English teacher, to Washington, D.C., in pursuit of higher education. This Friday I will meet my professors, buy books, and tour the campus (not for the first time) along with other incoming School of Communications graduate students. I know I am not alone; in fact the U.S. Census Bureau projects that 18.4 million students will be enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities this fall. However, there is a sense of unease about returning to school after six years of being in the workforce. Late night pizza binges and house parties don’t have the same appeal they used to.
During my preparation for graduate studies, many friends applauded my choice, saying that school is the place to be in an abysmal economy. I reluctantly nodded my head in agreement while tracking spending on $3 coffees and cursing my $20 weekly Metro costs. I have looked at the statistics, though, and my chances of marketability and earning power increase exponentially with each higher degree.
Colleges and universities have noticed the recent trend of older graduates like myself returning to school and have made an attempt to accommodate nontraditional students such as those with spouses, children, and day jobs by offering evening and weekend as well as online courses. The renewal of the Higher Education Act, which was first put into place in 1965, was approved by Congress just before the August recess this year. This bill — supported by AAUW for its attempts to make higher education more accessible, among other provisions — gives the U.S. Department of Education the right to monitor banks and schools for fair lending policies and makes financial aid information more easily accessible to students.
AAUW does its part to ensure that women have access to higher education by providing fellowships and grants to women pursuing doctoral degrees, women from overseas, and women who are going back to school, like me. Career Development Grants are available to U. S. citizens and permanent residents who have been out of school for at least five years and are now interested in advancing or changing their careers or reentering the workforce. This past year 35 Career Development Grants were awarded. Susan Indest, 2008–09 Career Development grantee, holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and started her career as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Orleans. In 1992 Indest began working for the Louisiana Department of Health, a position in which she played a key role in the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita response and rebuilding efforts. Indest now plans to return to school to become a registered nurse.
As I prepare to head back to the classroom to take up my position on the other side of the teacher’s desk, I have been inspired by fellow and grantee stories like that of Susan Indest. Along the way, each alumna I interviewed offered me pieces of advice that I have been stockpiling to use as survival tools. Their stories have encouraged me to push myself harder and expect more from the back-to-school experience. There are still many amazing AAUW alumnae out there who I hope to continue profiling throughout the semester. I have come to see these women as my “long-distance mentors,” and I can’t imagine starting school without them.
Video: The Non-Traditional Student