The changing demographics of who is filling college classrooms


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Will Mitchell walks into an office at Erie Community College, sitting down to do some work. He has some time in between classes before jetting off to work as a personal trainer.

The 33-year-old is back in school for the first time in several years after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. and getting a businesses administration degree.

“Returning to school can be challenging,” said Mitchell. “Just being in that classroom environment again.”

The exercise science student set to graduate in 2019 isn’t alone feeling that way. The college’s Vice President of Enrollment Management says it can be very challenging for adult learners to get back into the swing of school.

“You need to understand how students can learn best and what we can do to prepare them for the future,” said Erik D’Aquino, the VP.

D’Aquino says keeping the course catalog updated and offering programs such as yearlong certification which students can use around the region right after graduating is how they’re making sure students are prepared. He says they’re finding that more of their students don’t fit the mold of what is perceived as the average undergrad – more than 60% of ECC attendees are over the age of 20 when they start classes.

Nationally, 40% of the 18 million undergraduate students in college are attending a community college.

“One of the greatest strengths of a community college is that it’s flexible,” said D’Aquino.

“I feel like, for my personal goals right now, this is the best setting,” said Mitchell. “It’s less time consuming and gives me all the information I need.”

Mitchell feels being back in school is helping him build a brighter future.

“You want to learn and gain information but you don’t want to go through life haphazardly – you want guidance and structure.”

“We [at ECC] can take the vast spectrum of students and prepare them for the future,” said D’Aquino.

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