Continuing education filling a need at Notre Dame

January 05, 1992|By JoAnne C. Broadwater

Margaret White is a free-lance photographer and the author of seven books. She's a single parent who has raised two sons, now ages 17 and 20. At 44, she is also an undergraduate student at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, where she's completing the education she started 25 years ago.

"I always knew that I would have the time to go back and finish the things I wanted to finish," Ms. White said. "I couldn't when my children were little and I didn't want to. But when my oldest son went away to college two years ago, I decided that was a good time for me to make a different move."

So a year ago, she signed up for one course. The next semester, she signed up for two. Now she's going to school full time and hopes to teach college courses some day.

"I love going to school," Ms. White said. "For me, it's a mental rest, a refueling station. School is so easy compared to life. And I'm still young enough to enjoy all of the things that I wanted to enjoy 25 years ago."

Ms. White is one of more than 200 students in the college's continuing education program, which admits women over 25 who attend undergraduate classes during the day -- not in the evening or on the weekend. These students make up about 25 percent of the college's day school population.

"Many women who have families want their classes to match the rest of the family's weekday schedule," said Judy Sabalauskas, the continuing education adviser at Notre Dame. "Weekdays are for school and weekends are for family. There are also women who really want to go back for more of a total college experience as a day student."

As part of that day school experience, they take classes not just with women their own age but with 18- to-22-year-olds. They do have their own adviser and some separate special events, however, and they socialize and study in a continuing education lounge.

"Because of their age they have a different set of needs," Ms. Sabalauskas said. "You have to take into account their total life experience and the need to balance career, family and education."

Students may be finishing a degree, taking their first college courses ever, or earning a second bachelor's degree. Many do not have jobs, although some have flexible schedules or work night and weekend hours.

"All of our students are addressing an unmet need," Ms. Sabalauskas said. "They may need to upgrade their credentials, they may need the stimulation that a classroom brings or they may be there for pure fun. Some women have very good professions but have always wondered what it would be like to do something else."

Margo Hunter worked part-time in sales while raising her family, but now that her youngest child is 15, she's pursuing an interest in elementary education. She expects to graduate from Notre Dame in late 1993.

"There is such a crisis in education," Mrs. Hunter said. "There is a real need for people who want to be teachers and who are willing to make a commitment to education. I decided that it was now or never."

She returned to school in 1990. Since then, her husband, Richard Hunter, the former superintendent of the Baltimore city public schools, has returned to his position as professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mrs. Hunter stayed behind in Baltimore to complete her education and her husband commutes home each weekend.

"I really wanted to finish my degree at Notre Dame," said Mrs. Hunter, who is in her mid-40's. "We relocated five times over 20 years and that had some bearing on me not completing my education in the past. Now my husband is making the sacrifice because he says that I've done it all of these years. He has encouraged me so much."

When Hazel Hatter started taking classes at the college in 1988, she had been away from school for about 20 years and went back just for "enrichment." Now, at age 56, she's a full-time student and expects to graduate this May. She's active on campus as a student senator and gives talks to prospective continuing education students. And she's already thinking about graduate school.

While her children were growing up, she worked in a variety of medical practices. "I had always talked about going back to school, but I never did anything about it," she said. "Now my children are all grown and they've been urging me to do it for a long time.

"I did not have plans to pursue a degree," she added. "But then I found out that yes, indeed, I could compete and do well. I'm so much richer for the learning experience. I'm invigorated and growing by leaps and bounds in so many directions in what I'm doing. This is a very exciting place to be."

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