Parkland not just for ‘traditional’ students

Photo by Anna Watson | Tony Hooker works as an advisor for adults who are 25 years or older and taking college credits at Parkland. He wants to give them the best support possible, because when he re-entered Parkland at 27, the ARC resources were not available.

Photo by Anna Watson | Tony Hooker works as an advisor for adults who are 25 years or older and taking college credits at Parkland. He wants to give them the best support possible, because when he re-entered Parkland at 27, the ARC resources were not available.

Anna Watson

Staff Writer

At Parkland, students range in age from 18 to 86-years-old. Parkland advisor Anthony “Tony” Hooker of Parkland’s Adult Re-Entry Center, said he wants to offer the best support for older adults looking to earn college credit.

At the ARC, located in the U-wing, adults can seek academic advising, transcript evaluations, and information on fitting class schedules into certain times.

Students who are 25 years or older and are currently enrolled in part-time or full-time classes or career certification programs are considered to be adults re-entering the educational system.

According to enrollment data, adults 25 years or older make up 50.2 percent of the Parkland student population.

“The reason why the ARC exists is because they needed a focal point,” Hooker said. “[The ARC] is a one-stop shop where they have initial contact, admission, and all the way through to commencement.”

Hooker is the main contact for non-traditional students re-entering into Parkland. He says the two main challenges older adults have with going back to school is the financial means and feeling isolated. Hooker also said adult learners are a bit different because they have specific issues, like balancing class time with other obligations like their careers and families.

Hooker re-entered into Parkland at 27, but he said there was a lack of resources like the ARC to help guide him through school.

“[I] recognized the importance of being prepared for class. The importance, in that this might be the last go-around in getting a degree, and I think that comes with a sense of urgency for a lot of adult learners, which is something I think they bring to the classroom,” Hooker said.

In August, Stephanie Meyer, 28, enrolled in the Parkland dental hygiene program as a full-time student while working three jobs.

Meyer said she doesn’t mind how busy she is.

“If my schedule wasn’t as booked as it is, I probably wouldn’t [be] so strict on when I have time to study,” said Meyer, who attends class four days a week, “I always stay after class. Me and a few other girls in the program study together.”

At 19, Meyer attended college right after high school, but dropped out shortly after the first semester. She then moved to Indianapolis for several years where she worked a number of jobs as a nanny, dental assistant, hospital tech, bartender, and server.

“I always knew I wanted to do dental hygiene, but I was more focused on making a living,” she said. “Don’t ever make that mistake if you know what you want to do. I could have been in my career 10 years ago.”

However, Meyer said she doesn’t regret living life the way she has. At Parkland, she says things feel natural with the dental hygiene program.

“With all the connections I have made with people and how well everything is going, I thought to myself, maybe I wasn’t meant to go because I wasn’t ready,” Meyer said.

Meyer said she applied to many schools, but Parkland’s administration made her feel important. They initiated contact even before she committed to their program.

At the beginning of the semester, students and faculty of dental hygiene met for dinner in Champaign.

Tom Warner, 68, enrolled in classes in the summer of 2015. He plans to pursue associate degree in both photography and communications.

“I was lousy in high school and bad at math,” Warner said, “My counselor saw I chose to take a photography class on my own and suggested majoring in it.”

Warner was a truck driver for over thirty years and has published three books. He said doesn’t know what he will do with his diploma, other than frame it, but obtaining a college degree was always a dream for him.

ARC partners with 12 colleges and universities, which means adults can get their degree from certain universities while attending locally at Parkland’s campus or taking online and hybrid classes.