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From grind to grad


Jennie Whiteman
Shannon Cornman

After unfulfilling careers and unexpected life situations, they made the decision to go back to college a decade or longer after having last set foot in a classroom. This time around, the purpose isn’t just to get through it: It’s to get something out of it.

They aren’t alone. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the number of adults returning to the classroom is on the rise. Between 2000 and 2009, student enrollment for the 24-and-younger crowd increased by 27 percent. Enrollment of students older than 25, however, shot up 43 percent during that same period.

It’s no surprise that economic woes since 2008 have played a role, according to Myron Pope, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Central Oklahoma.

“We receive quite a few students who are nontraditional and in the last couple of years there’s been an uptick,” he said. “I always watch the economy. Oftentimes, when the economy is down, our enrollment is up.”

Starting anew 

Summer Maxey initially wanted to pursue a degree in nursing, but wound up with a degree in psychology before hitting the proverbial career wall.

After stints as a nurse’s aide and physical therapy aide, she decided in the spring of 2009 to return to school to pursue something she’d really love to do. This month, the 28-year-old will graduate with a bachelor’s in nursing from Oklahoma City University.

“It was very hard,” Maxey said of going back to school. “You’re pretty much starting over completely. As an older student, I feel like I value the education and put more effort into it than I probably did in my undergraduate years. I know this is the field I’ll stay in forever. It’s easier to commit to it.”

Economic woes

Her sentiments are echoed by Josh Hughes. A 1999 high school graduate from Edmond Memorial, he spent eight years in the Marine Corps, teaching marksmanship to recruits and earning a college degree in social psychology along the way.

Summer Maxey
Shannon Cornman

Then trouble hit. The economy crashed after Hughes sold his house. He sunk all his profits into one glorious year traveling Europe.

Even being a free spirit and risk taker, however, Hughes knew he needed a career. But what?

spent a lot of time on the patient side in hospitals, and I really like
nurses,” he said. “There’s always a need for nurses and I’ll have the
financial stability to live wherever I want. And you may work a lot of
hours, but can get a decent amount of time off.”

The 31-year-old embarks on his second career this month.

Gaining confidence

For Jennie Whiteman, higher
education was always in the cards. It’s just that marriage and kids got
dealt to her first. At 34, she found herself manning a desk at a health
insurance office in Maryland with a serious case of career depression.

“Without a college
education there is this glass ceiling where you can not go any further,”
she said. “I saw college kids get hired and put into management
positions above me.”

Whiteman went back to
school and got her degree. A master’s soon followed and, now at 42, the
daughter of a steelworker who didn’t finish high school is finishing up
law school at Oklahoma City University.

didn’t think I was smart enough to be in college,” said Whiteman. “I
found that school was amazing. It was a really big growth experience for
me as far as a person. I found that because I was older, I was
dedicated to my studies. I was one of those annoying students when the
teacher was trying to let you go early, I was raising my hand.”

John Maloy was a “juvenile delinquent” spending much of his teen years just outside Nashville, El Paso and then Oklahoma City.

Josh Hughes
Mark Hancock

The local musician figured he didn’t need high school — much less college.

was playing for this girl and I quit,” Maloy said. “I thought — not to
pat myself on the back, but I was a pretty good musician — I would be
hired rather quickly from other bands around town.”

It didn’t happen. “It got me thinking honestly,” the single father said. “I couldn’t depend on being a musician in this town
to supply for my needs in the future. I needed to get a skill and a

His girlfriend talked him into applying at Rose State College. At 30, he figured he wouldn’t even pass the test, but he did.

Now he is well on his way to a political science degree and is already pricing law schools.

“I’ve learned there’s always adversity, no matter what,” Maloy said.

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