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When Karen Stacy’s husband suffered a serious ATV accident, she knew she’d need to find a way to bring in some income for their family. Says Stacy, age 33, “I never dreamed I’d get to go to college.” But that’s exactly what she’s doing. After getting her GED while her whole family watched her graduate, Stacy enrolled at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, where she’s a radiology major. Her kids “pitch in around the house” so she can juggle work, home, family, and school. “Don’t be afraid of how you’re going to feel,” she advises other potential adult students, “just do it!”

For Troy Burchett, age 35, going back to school meant facing his fears that he wouldn’t fit in. Burchett, born legally blind, who hadn’t finished high school because of his visual disability, says, “I’m a very ambitious person.” He worked hard, got his GED, and then headed on to college. Now he’s tackling classes at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, planning to become a counselor.

Burchett says, “I wanted to make a difference for others.” Though he isn’t certain how long it will take him to finish, he’s determined to stick to it and not quit no matter what difficulties he faces. He encourages others when he insists, “You can’t stay safe at home. You’ve got to take chances.” Burchett teaches self-defense classes and encourages disabled persons to go back to school, mentioning his own motto: “What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve.”

Anthony Henson, age 31, wants to set a strong example for his young son, so Henson is back in school at Hazard Technical College. Studying diesel technology, Henson is determined to “be a better father figure” for his son and a leader among his younger classmates. He always wanted to go to college, though he married early and had his son; now he says, “I feel better about myself.” He urges other adult students to “never give up” on dreams of college.

Nobody says it’s always easy, but more and more adults are heading back to school, taking on the challenges of juggling work, family, and education. Most agree it’s worth the effort, and many wish they’d jumped right in and done it sooner. With the current trend toward adults returning to school, colleges are offering programs geared toward the special needs of adult students.

Karen Roché, 26-year-old single parent and staff sergeant in the National Guard, works full time, loves her job, and says, “I’m really happy in the Guard, but I’ve always wanted to finish my degree.”

Now she has the chance through specialized programs that allow her to take classes right where she works in Frankfort. The cohort program (for those who attend evening or Saturday classes) through Midway College provides a perfect solution for Roché, who says, “So far, it’s been great.” Considering the help she gets through financial aid and Midway’s special program, “I would be a fool not to go back to school.” With so many opportunities available and financial aid accessible, she believes that “everybody should get an education.”

There seems to be a program to meet every need across the state of Kentucky. At Berea College, adults with children can find help in their innovative Child Development Laboratory, where children of students, faculty, and staff receive high-quality growth experiences. The program is a part of Berea’s Ecovillage, a new and ecologically sustainable housing complex primarily for students who are married and/or parents.

Bethany Smith, coordinator for the Academic Center for Excellence for the College of Health and Human Services and the volunteer staff advisor for the Non-traditional Students Organization, says Western Kentucky University has 20% nontraditional students. Smith explains that Western has an organization solely for returning adults and a Bachelor of General Studies as an alternative program. She urges older potential students, “Don’t wait another second. Join the crowd of working adults enrolling in colleges and universities across the country.”

Eastern Kentucky University offers a range of distance education opportunities (via interactive television or two-way video teleconferences and online courses on the Web), as well as extended campuses in Corbin, Danville, Hazard, and Manchester, all of which, according to Bill St. Pierre, director of Distance Education, give “students the anywhere, anytime ability to access courses and programs in pursuit of their educational goals, for career growth, to learn new skills.”

Another example of a program that caters to adults is at Thomas More College. The TAP (Thomas More Accelerated Program) provides group learning and opportunities particularly focused on adult students seeking a faster pace toward a degree.

Then there’s Billie Burton at Murray State University, who found herself back in college after 13 years. Though she had a bachelor’s degree in history, she wasn’t content with her employment options, especially when her husband left. “I realized that I would be supporting myself for many years,” says Burton, who also had a 4-year-old to raise. Determined to make a better life for them both, she headed back to college.

Though her family wasn’t convinced she was making the right choices, she was determined and says, “I created a whole new life for myself.” As an adult, Burton says she “was focused and highly motivated.” But much had changed. There were problems and lots she didn’t know. “I learned to ask lots of questions.”

Burton, who earned her master’s in Guidance and Counseling and Specialist in College Teaching at Murray, and who now also works for Murray State University, points out, “I really do have the best job on campus.” Burton helps other adult students in their quest for education through “ABC,” Adults Belong in College, a program begun by Molly Young—an adult student in the late 1980s who went on to earn her graduate degree—which offers encouragement, advice, support, and solid, practical information.

The ABC program provides an adult student center, a club, scholarships, orientation, and more. “I enjoy helping adult students,” she says. “I am always amazed at their courage and their ability to juggle work and family and still be good students.”

Not only is Cynthia Osborne back in school at Hazard Community College at age 50, she is more than a good student. She is a super student! With a 4.0 grade point average and a full course schedule, she has recently been elected Student Government president, is vice president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and serves on the Kentucky Community and Technical College System Board of Regents. She loves every moment of it.

Osborne is passionate about life, education, and helping others. During what she describes as a “little midlife crisis,” she pondered how to change her life and decided she needed more education. With plans to become a counselor, Osborne says, “I want to do my best to make a difference in the lives of the people that I touch.

“I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college,” says Osborne. “One thing I have learned is if you have the desire to do something, nothing is impossible. I am only limited by what I can imagine.”

Adult students all over Kentucky are doing it: returning to school, juggling work, family, and classes. Individuals of all ages have tackled the challenges of getting back into the routine of tests, papers, and homework. All agree on one thing—whatever the difficulties or problems, it’s absolutely worth it.


Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority
Interested in going back to school? Start by contacting the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) for their information book Adults Returning to School: A Guide to Higher Education for Nontraditional Students. You’ll find advice on everything from getting your GED, financial aid resources, and career counseling to programs available at individual Kentucky colleges.

KHEAA’s book notes that by 2010 there will be 6.5 million adults age 25 and up going back to school in the United States. For more information, go online to or call (800) 928-8926.

Kentucky Virtual University
For students who prefer online opportunities, the Kentucky Virtual University provides a wide range of courses, acting as a hub for different universities and community colleges. For information on Kentucky Virtual University, go online to or call (877) 740-4357.

KET telecourses
Numerous institutions participate in programs such as KET’s telecourses, in which students can watch their lecture classes on television with varying degrees of actual on-campus involvement. For more information about KET telecourses, go online to or call (800) 432-0970.

Correspondence, nights, weekends
There’s also a selection of correspondence classes available, as well as night and weekend scheduling to adapt to adult students who must work during the week. Check with colleges concerning the programs they offer.


According to Arleen Johnson, director of the Donovan Scholars Program, “Lifelong learning is the key to staying active, involved, and healthy.” Through the Donovan Program, individuals age 65 and older attend college classes and even earn advanced degrees. Age is not a limiting factor—one Donovan student earned a doctorate in education at age 86. “There are 1,100 students each year, age 60 and older, who take at least one of the 30 special self-enrichment classes offered in community settings, free of charge,” says Johnson.

Though the Donovan Program mainly serves central Kentucky, Johnson points out that State Legislation KRS 164.284 provides a waiver of tuition and fees for people age 65 or older at state colleges and community and technical colleges, so that older Kentuckians statewide can go back for their educations.

“You’re never too old to learn,” Johnson asserts.

For more information, go online to or call (859) 257-2656.

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