Before setting foot in Angell Hall, Brian Lee, a 27-year-old LSA student, had already had “the best four years” of his life.

Prior to enrolling at the University, Lee served in the U.S. Air Force at a base in California. Though he wouldn’t give up those four years for anything, Lee decided it was now time to pursue his college degree.

“In our society today, it is what’s expected when you want to get any kind of job whatsoever,” Lee said. “When you’re trying to write a résumé, if you don’t have a college background, that automatically lessens your chances of being able to get hired.”

Lee was one of 813 adult students who enrolled at the University last year. And because the University recognizes undergraduate students over the age of 24 as financially independent, many of them receive extensive financial aid.

Adam Runkle, co-president of the Organization for Adult and Transfer Students, is a 27-year-old transfer student from Kalamazoo Valley Community College. He said being above the age of 24 brings with it a financial advantage that has made his life “much more enjoyable,” but it also brings a stigma that surrounds adult and transfer students.

“Last year I worked with a guy who asked, ‘Where are you from?’ and I told him my story and he said, ‘Oh, you’re a community college student? What, you weren’t smart enough?’” Runkle said.

Runkle added that in spite of these issues adult students remain unified by their similar situations, which often demand that they balance academic work with another professional commitment.

“There is a big sense of pride, because we’re competing with individuals who just got out of high school, whose parents are usually capable of supporting them,” Runkle said. “A lot of us have jobs as well as being students, so the pride in the community is drastic.”

Edgar Watson, a 30-year-old student in the College of Engineering who hopes to become a software engineer, said he decided to come to the University to earn a degree that would make him competitive in the down economy’s increasingly tough job market.

“If you don’t have a degree, it’s a lot tougher to find a job out there that is stable,” he said. “It became harder and harder, but I think that’s the time we’re in.”

Runkle said many of the University’s adult students are seeking higher education after fulfilling commitments to the military, family or other organizations. He added that with the down economy he anticipates the University will see an increase in the number of adult students, looking to pursue a more intensive degree program than is typically offered by two-year institutions.

The number of students enrolled at community colleges between 2007 and 2009 increased by nearly 17 percent, according to data released in December of last year by the American Association of Community Colleges.

“You’ve seen a drastic increase in community college students,” Runkle said. “If the economy doesn’t improve, they will want to transfer here.”

Erica Sanders, director of recruitment and operations in the University’s Office of Admissions, said adult students are often attracted to the University because they want to pursue programs that are only offered at an institution like the University of Michigan.

“Applicants talk to us about their interest in the University of Michigan, specifically because of our academic programs,” Sanders said. “We hear comments like, ‘I want to study languages and you offer 60 of them’ or, ‘Your Department of Psychology is the best in the country for my area of interest.'”

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