April 27, 2010

USA: Colleges see non-traditional students - These new grads are grandparents

. KANSAS City, Missouri / The Kansas Star / April 27, 2010 By Lisa Wade McCormick Special to The Star Some couples golf together. Others dance together. But how many couples go back to college together, especially after they’ve raised three children and become grandparents? Meet Peggy and Larry Rotert. This Northland couple recently earned their bachelors’ degrees together, finishing an academic journey that started in 2007 when they both enrolled at Park University. “I had my associate’s degree,” said Peggy, 51. “But I wanted to make myself more marketable.” So did Larry, a retired Navy E6 petty officer. He’d taken a hodgepodge of classes during his 20 years in the military but didn’t have enough credits for an undergraduate degree. He worried that his career opportunities in this post 9/11 world might be in jeopardy without a bachelor’s degree. “After Sept. 11, the job situation changed,” said Larry, 51. “It was not as stable. That forced me to re-evaluate my need to get a bachelor’s degree … in the quickest way possible.” Park University’s Accelerated Degree Program seemed like a perfect fit for the couple’s educational goals. Students in the program take eight-week courses, meeting for four hours and 20 minutes once a week. Peggy had her sights on a BA in management and accounting. Larry pursued his undergraduate degree in computer-based information systems. “We took two classes at a time — five sessions a year,” Peggy said. The couple juggled their rigorous class loads between ful-ltime jobs. Peggy, a former homemaker, is a senior accounting clerk at Ferrellgas. Larry works at Travelport, which supplies software for travel agencies. Their “back to school” pace was grueling. Homework absorbed most of their free time. “There were a lot of times we were glued to the couch or the kitchen table because of homework,” Peggy says. “We had 15 hours of homework in one weekend. We even took our laptops to our son’s wedding and got up early to study.” But all their hard work finally paid off. In December, the Roterts graduated with honors from Park. Peggy graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 grade point average. Larry graduated magna cum laude with a 3.89. “Oh, yes, we competed for the higher GPA,” Larry said when asked if he’s taken any ribbing about his wife’s higher grades. “We are competitive. You ought to see us when we’re bowling.” Peggy, he concedes, has the higher average there, too. The couple’s academic achievements, though, aren’t the only factors that made their commencement noteworthy. Four generations of family members saw them receive their diplomas. “We graduated on my father’s 80th birthday,” Peggy said. “Larry’s 84-year-old aunt was there, too. Two of our kids were there, and so were our grandkids.” Their youngest son, David, missed the ceremony. But the 21-year-old had a good reason. He’s finishing his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University. Larry is technically wrapping up his degree, too. He’s still taking one last class, business communications, but Park let him graduate in December to ensure he could attend his son’s commencement in May. “We didn’t want anything to interfere with David’s graduation,” Larry said. Graduations, after all, are a big deal in the Rotert household. The couple’s twin sons, Chris and Kevin, already have graduated with bachelor’s degrees. Kevin also has a master’s degree in journalism. He and his brothers admire their parents’ determination to earn their degrees. “We really encouraged them to go back to school,” Kevin said, adding that was a goal his dad set after he retired from the Navy. “It was pretty exciting and meant a lot to us to see them graduate.” Any chance Kevin and his brothers will see their parents graduate with advanced degrees? The Roterts shake their heads and say their college days are officially over. “A master’s degree is not cost effective at my age,” Peggy said. “I’m also tired of homework, and I missed my extra family time. But I don’t regret doing this. It gives me a sense of accomplishment that I didn’t have. I’ve increased my knowledge and my manager now comes to me to get my opinions.” The Roterts encourage other adults — regardless of their age – to pursue their degrees. “It was intimidating at first to be in a class with younger kids, but after that, it wasn’t a problem,” Peggy said. “And just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t do this.” [rc] The Kansas City Star