Graduating at age 30

College isn’t for everyone, and I know this from personal experience. On the other hand, people change, and I also know this from personal experience. I didn’t go to college after high school, but I am 100 percent sure that when I was 18 years old, if I had, I would have failed miserably. But at 30, I have experienced unqualified success at Marshalltown Community College.

I “graduated” with the class of 2016, but I’m still a few credits shy of my degree, which I am currently completing during the summer term. I’m not the oldest person to earn a degree this year, but I was the oldest or one of the oldest students in all of my classes.

When I was younger, I could never have been a successful student because I was not mature enough for college. Some of my younger classmates at MCC also lacked the maturity necessary for college. In the interest of being polite, that is all I will say about that. These youngsters struggled, and college might not have been a wise choice for them at that point in their lives.

Beginning college in your 20s is a major challenge. I think many people my age have grappled with this problem. When I started working for Lennox Industries in 2010 and joined the United Auto Workers, I was starting to put my life together. A few years later, I was on my feet and decided to give college a shot.

Younger students often have the advantage of receiving ongoing support from parents and having fewer adult commitments such as children, mortgages and credit card debt. Strangely, in spite of this “non-traditional students” like me also often have advantages over “traditional students.”

I am earning my entire 64-credit degree in one year, with a GPA above 3.9, and will be done in a couple months. I don’t think very many teenagers could do this. Of course, I enrolled as a full-time student, plus winter and summer terms. But I also tested out of 24 credits using CLEP – the equivalent of two full-time semesters. I truly believe that there are people my age in Marshalltown who can do the same thing, including several of my co-workers.

Just because we work in factories or stores does not mean we aren’t life-long learners. We didn’t go to college when we were kids because it wasn’t our time. But now we are able to draw from years of experience in the real world and community college is mainly introductory courses.

I have pursued broad interests in my 12 adult years before I started college from history to literature to politics to philosophy to science. I was able to apply so much of this to my classes that it almost seemed unfair at times, almost like cheating. None of my young classmates could hope to match the life experiences of someone in their 30s.

One particular point of interest in Marshalltown is the high number people who are fluent in Spanish. Bilingual speakers of Spanish, French or German can earn nearly 20 percent of a degree simply through a language competency CLEP exam. I am self-taught but was still able to earn eight credits – what I consider conversational Spanish proficiency.

As for the cost, and I don’t know this for certain since I paid out of pocket, student loans are available to almost everyone and cover most or all of the expense of college at MCC.

I hope my example encourages other adults to look into an education at MCC. I think there are many like me in the region who weren’t ready back then, but may be ready now. College was far easier for me than I ever thought before I started it – an experience I’m sure others will share with me. All anyone has to do is visit the office at MCC and ask for an advisor to learn more.

And since I have access to this forum, I also want to publicly thank Lennox and the UAW for providing me with reliable employment that had good conditions, wages and benefits. Getting hired over there was a turning point in my life and provided the foundation for me to gain a college education at my age.


Robert Silver lives in Marshalltown, works at Lennox Industries, and is a loyal member of the UAW.


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