By now, almost everybody knows that large numbers of adults are going to college, some for the first time, some for the second time around. More than a third of the students now enrolled in college are 25 years old or older, and close to half of them are women, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
And almost everybody knows at least one person, husband or wife, homemaker or bureaucrat, who is taking classes for a degree or not-for-credit, part-time or full-time, evenings or weekends -- to enhance their career, to advance in their profession, or to enrich their personal life.
But most people may not know the difficulties that many adults face in getting over going to college. To be sure, for some people it seems relatively easy. For others, it seems like a juggling act or like running hurdles and may be frightening or confusing. Whatever it takes, it means some doing for everyone.
At 49, Ruth Baltimore had never been to college. So when she enrolled in her first course at Southern Connecticut State College in New Haven, she was afraid that she wouldn't be able "to keep up with young people."
Eventually, Baltimore discovered that her age was an asset. "I was less shy than I was when I was in high school. I found it a lot easier to add to what was being said in class or to relate my own experience. Teachers liked that," she said.
Starting out part-time, Baltimore became a full-time student, and worked and raised a family at the same time. "The biggest problem was the enormous amount of reading. I didn't have the time or the privacy in which to do it." Nonetheless, she earned her B.S. in 7 years and her master's in 4.
Getting back to school "wasn't hard; it was kind of a kick," says Lowrence R. Kelliher, a 40-year-old engineer with the Navy and father of three.
Working full-time and a college graduate (B.S. in physics), Kelliher needed to find the right part-time graduate program.
That took more than a little doing. He tried courses in economics and accounting and then enrolled in a master's program in systems analysis. He finally found what he wanted in the Master of Liberal Studies program at Georgetown University.
"It's great," says Kelliher, who "felt the need to be connected with a university." Going to school is an "adventure." "It's like going into the unknown," he says. "There is the promise of a new beginning, the potential for something better."
At 24, with a wife and two children and a full-time job, going back to college is serious business for Allan Baldwin, a senior at Nova University in Fort Lauderdale. He had to juggle his time and money to go to college for the second time.
When Baldwin made the decision to "be away in class at night," he thought that he'd "have to miss half the thrill of watching his children grow up." To compensate for his time away from his family, he goes home for lunch, and has a "date night" with the wife each week so that they can be together.
To get the money he's needed for college, Baldwin "spent some reserves" and borrowed from his dad -- "scraped it together."
When Joan Gidding decided to go back to college she had to start from scratch even through she had two years of college to her credit. But that didn't faze her.
Born and educated in India, Gidding was unable to retrieve any of her educational records from the Bristish Government. So she took the General Education Diploma (G.E.D.) battery of tests, earned her high school diploma, and started as a freshman in college. "It's been fine, and it's fun." "If I hadn't started all over again I would have missed a lot," says Gidding, who is only 25 credits shy of earning her bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland.
Evy-Ann Wellington was "afriad" of going back to college, even though she says that doing so was "always in the back of my mind."
Recently remarried and the mother of two, she found herself in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania "needing to do something that has some meaning -- like getting a college degree."
Once she was back in college, Wellington still had things to overcome -- among them, feeling that, as a mature woman, she stood out among the 18-to-22-year-olds at Bucknell. "The first couple of days on campus, I said, 'If anyone says anthing, I'll hit them.'
Wellington admits that she's "finding it hard." She says that she doesn't organize her time well and doesn't know how to study. "As difficult and as frightening as getting back to college is, I think it's great for everyone," adds Wellington. "it's always hardest in the beginning. I keep thinking that I should do better, but people say 'relax'"
Adults like Baltimore, Kelliher, Baldwin Gidding, and Wellington are going to college throughout the United States and are getting over the same or different hurdles.
You might think, that nowdays adult students would have an easier time of it, because so many schools offer such things as weekend courses, credit for life experience, and off-campus classes, sometimes held right where people work, and because anyone can get all the information and good advice about college that they could possibly need.
But when you get right down to it, getting to college isn't just a matter of what colleges or universities do for students. It's also what people who want to be students do for themselves. And somehow that can be as easy or as diicult as anyone chooses to make it.