Adult students work toward better jobs


After giving 25 years to jobs he wasn't happy with, Robert Turner decided he needed a change. He "was sick of the biz" and enrolled at the Colorado Northwestern Community College to jumpstart his career.

"I'm trying to find what my passion is," Turner said. "Forty-five years old, you'd think I'd know."

Dean Hollenbeck, vice president of the Craig campus, said adult learners such as Turner make up the bulk of the student body.

"We're primarily nontraditional students here. Being able to service our community, we're committed to that," Hollenbeck said.

That's why the Adult Learning Assistance Program is a critical part of the college. Instructors there are continually testing and tutoring adults who have decided to continue their education.

Sheila Harper, chairwoman for the developmental studies department, said an adult learner is classified as being 25 or older. Four or five years ago, adults accounted for three-quarters of CNCC's enrollment. Now, Harper estimates the ratio is closer to half, because of an increasing number of young students entering the nursing and cosmetology programs.

Some of the nontraditional students come back to earn their GEDs, and most of them come in at a pre-college entry level.

Harper said instructors spend a lot of time bringing students up to speed so they are ready for beginning coursework. When they are, most enter into a degree program, often part time.

And it certainly isn't easy.

"It's hard to do school when you haven't done it for 30 years," Turner said. "So, yeah, I'm finding it a pretty big challenge."

He said he's behind on his homework in his computer and small-business classes, and he comes into the ALAP center so he can focus.

Turner enjoys learning new skills in his classes but thinks it's difficult to balance the other pressures of life with his coursework.

But, to him, it's all worth it. He's ready to stop working for a corporation and to start his own business.

Harper said dedication like his is common among the students she sees.

"I love working with adults who are so motivated to learn new things," she said. "Man, they work their butts off to make it."

However, there are some changes being made with ALAP this year. The center is typically open year-round but will be closed this summer. Harper said the lab will reopen for the fall semester.

Also, Jan Rogers, a full-time faculty member in developmental studies, is retiring June 30, but she will stay on as an adjunct professor. To fill in for her in ALAP, Harper plans to hire para-educators to tutor during the busiest hours at the lab.

She has plans to keep ALAP going because of the high number of students who participate each year. Many students' motivation is better pay while some, such as Turner, are just ready for a change of lifestyle for themselves and their families.

"I see an awful lot of adults who are tired of working entry-level jobs," Harper said. "They're sick of it. They want something better for their kids."

For more information on CNCC's programs, call 824-7071.

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031 or

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