Going back to college meant Christopher L. Post spent a lot of late nights with his head buried in books.
But devoting all that time to furthering his education also meant more chores around the house for his kids, no family vacations and asking his wife and family to cut back without his regular income.
“It’s tough watching others sacrifice their lives so I can achieve my dreams,” Post said.
The 49-year-old West Seneca man walked across the stage Saturday with about 200 other Buffalo-area graduates of Empire State College, receiving degrees during a commencement ceremony in Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall Performing Arts Center.
Post’s story of heading back to college later in life plays out routinely at places like Empire State College, the State University of New York’s liberal arts college that caters to what are considered “nontraditional” students. That definition is typically based on a student’s age and part-time status. And it turns out that there are now more college students like Post than the traditional, 18- to 22-year-olds.
In 2011, more people in the United States enrolled as part-time college students who were age 25 and above than entered college for the first time as a full-time student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
While more and more college students are falling into this category, it’s not a new phenomenon.
At the start of the 2000s, only 27 percent of undergraduates enrolled in U.S. colleges were considered “traditional” students, the U.S. Department of Education reported in 2002.
Post had once enrolled at St. Bonaventure University and also attended Jamestown Community College, but he didn’t get his degree when he was younger. He took a break from school, moved to Florida and then began careers in the restaurant and retail business.
When his employer closed in 2010, he decided it was time to go back to college. On Saturday, he received a master’s degree in teaching and served as the graduate student speaker during the ceremony.
Nan M. DiBello, dean of the college’s Niagara Frontier region, noted the majority of the college’s students – 900 enrolled this past year at one of the five sites and another 300 at the Center for Distance Learning – are enrolled part time.
“All of our students deal with the challenges of complex lives as they pursue their degrees,” DiBello said.
After doing clerical work for more than 14 years, Iris M. Rivera of Buffalo went back to college in the fall of 2010 at age 50.
Rivera, who addressed graduates as the undergraduate student speaker, had already done work as a Spanish translator and interpreter, but never had any formal training. The wife and mother of two boys wanted to perfect her skills and become a professional, but admitted there were times during her studies that she wanted to give up. She received her bachelor’s degree in cultural studies, with a concentration in Spanish language and culture, on Saturday.
“College at my age was not easy, but deep down inside I knew I had to win this race,” Rivera said during her speech.