Survey looks at experience of mid-life and older adults returning to graduate education

August 19, 2011 By Jessica Martin

Americans are remaining in the workforce longer and many are changing or advancing their careers well past age 40.

“With this trend towards working longer, educational institutions have been trying to figure out their role in keeping up with the needs of our aging society,” says Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, the Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Brown School decided to study the experiences of their students who came to get their MSW after the age of 40. The survey focuses on pathways to graduate school, their experience in the classroom as well as field, and their post-MSW careers.

“As part of our Next Move project, we surveyed our students over 40 from the past 10 years to find out if their efforts were worth it and if there was anything the school could do to improve the experience,” she says.

Overall, the findings were positive.

“We were looking for any negative experiences being non-traditionally aged students or negative experiences on the job market,” Morrow-Howell says.

“We found that people came, they did well, they went out and accomplished their plans, they got into the careers they wanted and they looked very favorably at their experience.”

The survey revealed that more than half of the students returning to school over the age of 40 were switching careers to the social work field instead of advancing current social work careers.

Program development

While the students enjoyed their experience at the Brown School, survey respondents commented that the instructors and their classmates could have taken more advantage of their life and work experience.

The survey report suggests that teachers could be more creative in using previous experience in assignments and discussions. Further, the curriculum must help these students take advantage of skills that are transferring from the for-profit sector.

“The classroom will be more enriching for everybody if there are people of all ages,” Morrow-Howell says. “We should begin to see age as an important part of diversity as much as we see ethnicity and gender and sexual orientation as aspects of diversity.”

She notes that the survey results also are making the Brown School take a hard look at how to reach out to older students.

Other graduate programs

Morrow-Howell says that these results can be applied to other graduate programs, particularly in fields that may face labor shortages in the future, such as education, health and social services.

“Our findings show that older students can come to the classroom, they can do well and they can do what they want to do when they’re done,” she says.

“I think the findings are particularly relevant to certain sectors of the economy. Some fields are going to have enough people in the labor force as younger folks are being trained and come into the job market, but some are going to be short on labor and those sectors are beginning to look at how to retain people longer. We see graduate education as a potential way to bring mid-life and older adults into the workforce.”

Explore further: Research shows workers who begin careers during recession suffer long-term, negative effects on earnings

Related Stories

Nearly half of all elderly Americans will experience poverty

December 9, 2010

Nearly half of all Americans between the ages of 60 and 90 will encounter at least one year of poverty or near poverty, says a recent study by Mark R. Rank, PhD, the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Work at the Brown ...

Critical thinking called into question

February 4, 2011

A post-secondary education won’t necessarily guarantee students the critical thinking skills employers have come to expect from university grads, says a recent study.

After school matters

June 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A three-year evaluation of After School Matters -- a Chicago after-school program that serves more than 17,000 students and is a model for high school after-school programs in cities around the country -- ...

The next STEP in science education

August 3, 2011

By many accounts, the picture of science education in the United States is bleak: American students lag their international peers in standardized test scores, fewer of them are studying science and engineering at the university ...

Recommended for you

Early human diet explains our eating habits

August 31, 2015

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat ...

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.