James Russell didn’t understand how letters form syllables, let alone how words link into whole statements, when he first walked into a Rio Salado College classroom eight months ago.
The 78-year-old couldn’t grasp enough written English to fill out a job application.
A heart attack ended Russell’s lawn service career last year. But retirement isn’t an option for a man without savings.
"I want to do something with my head instead of my back," said Russell, who now reads at a fourth-grade-level thanks to community college classes.
Russell is a dramatic example of one of higher education’s greatest challenges: working adults.
Classes begin this week at the Valley’s universities and community colleges, where administrators are trying to expand programs for the population of older, busier students.
Despite those efforts, the number of older students at most of the state’s public institutions has stagnated. College officials blame budget constraints.
"There is always demand for adult education, and the demand is larger than what we can fill across the state," said Kathy Price, coordinator of Rio Salado’s adult basic education program.
At Arizona State University, the number of students over the age of 35 actually shrunk slightly, enrollment data shows. That decline came in spite of the university’s overall growth and the creation of several programs to serve working adults.
But some institutions, particularly community colleges and private for-profit universities, are faring better. (East Valley Tribune)
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