Non-traditional students thrive at PAC

By Kayla B. De La Peña
Pulse Staff Reporter

EnrollmentByAgeFall2015Every semester, thousands of fresh-out-of-high-school students step onto a college campus for the first time. Along with these young adults, older adults return to college after a gap or enroll for the first time.

In the fall semester of 2015, 1,274 students were 31 years old and above, making up almost 16 percent of Palo Alto College’s student population.

Business Administration Major Luke Cantu graduated high school in 2000 and immediately entered the workforce. In 2008, Cantu joined the military and served for eight years. In the summer of 2015, he decided to put his GI Bill to use and sign up for one class.

“I wanted to see if I could do it while working full time,” he said. He eventually worked up to taking three classes a semester, which he said is a comfortable amount. Cantu wants to use his major to move up in his metal distribution company.

“The Education course they make you take (EDUC 1300) was actually really helpful since I hadn’t been in school for a while,” he said.

Teresa Sanchez graduated from high school in 1971. Discrimination in the small town she grew up in discouraged Hispanic students like herself from considering college. Sanchez wanted to become a teacher, but she felt that “it was just a dream, not something that could be accomplished.”

Immediately after high school, Sanchez went to a community college to learn how to be a receptionist. “I studied typing, short hand and bookkeeping,” she said.

In 2007, her job working for a Catholic church led her to Oblate School of Theology to help her in her career. The program offered two tracks: Pastoral Education or Philosophy.

When her advisor told her she could not pursue Philosophy, Sanchez decided to take a few courses at Palo Alto College. Sanchez took classes during the day. “I didn’t want to take night classes. I wanted to experience it with the kids around me,” Sanchez said, “When I saw my reflection in the glass doors of the building, I felt like I belonged.”

Sanchez finished her first year in college with a 4.0 GPA. “For the longest time, I felt like a part of me was missing. Palo Alto helped me fulfill that. I loved it,” Sanchez said.

Some returning students are returning to high school before moving on to college. Carol Salazar completed her high school diploma in 2016. In the 30 years between dropping out and returning, Salazar started a life as a salon manager and hair stylist. After pushing three of her four children through college, she decided to go back herself to get an associate’s degree and a Cosmetology instructor’s license.

“I thought ‘I should take my own advice and go to college,’” Salazar said.

Taking EDUC 1300 was very useful to Salazar, who needed help adjusting to being a full-time student as well as working full time.

Non-traditional adult students choose to attend or return to school for very different reasons. Whether it is to go further in a career field, for self-improvement, or to fulfill an inner yearning, Palo Alto awaits their return.