Mature Age Students: The New Generation Our Health Care Sector Needs?

The mature age student is studying because they choose to. Often they have come to a point in their lives where, through experiences both good and bad, they have found themselves, their passions and desires and are now ready to commit to doing something with those drivers. Generation X is not your typical mature age student. They are commonly men and women who are no longer under their parent’s roof, and are making a life for themselves with little assistance from common avenues of support. Many are raising children single-handedly.

The mature aged student frequently juggles multiple jobs, children, a standing in their community, a social life, their studies, and a never ending thirst to be better, to do more and to make their lives worth something greater than the individual.

The women are not pursuing marriage as a mechanism for material security and well being. They are out there doing it for themselves and often alone. The men are also doing it hard, trying to find their place in a society which has emasculated them since the feminism movement took root. They have kids, but not necessarily living under the same roof.

So where is the support for the mature aged X Gen who have played hard, defined themselves through experiential means, who have burned themselves out on striving for achievements, money, fame, fortune, professional prowess, and recognition. These ‘X-Genners’ have risen like the proverbial phoenix out of the fires of oppression known as the traditional husband/wife scenario and into the world of self support and fierce independence. But with this independence there comes a price. Our freedom has set us loose from our support networks of parents, wives, husbands, partners and we find ourselves disconnected from each other and more problematic, from ourselves.

Often our gypsy-like nature has resulted in unstable living arrangements, high debt and little assistance to help facilitate a life change into the next phase of self development. Our quest has been to live hard, learn much and at the end of it all, we find ourselves thinking… there has to be more to life than this. We are ready to step into our power and pass on what we have learned to our communities.

The X Generation is the new movement in health care of this nation. In recent years there has been a massive influx of X-Genners returning to formal and informal studies, many of us have not before completed an undergraduate degree, and we are commonly turning to fields of studies that are completely unrelated to our previous lives. Amongst the students I cross paths with through my mindfulness and meditation training is aspiring nurses, social workers, psychologists, bio-med and education. These progressive and open minded students are intent upon affecting healing change upon the world. They are the souls that will guide our next generation of children and teens into a peaceful, healing and authentic society. Interestingly, their drive to healing pursuits comes from their own direct experience with trauma, illness and major life disruptions that have forced a different view, a new way of being.

And what a great place for them to direct their attentions. They are perfectly suited to the health care industry. These students are well traveled, have a wealth of personal first hand experience of how tough the world can be if in a weakened or dis-empowered position in society. They have developed a deep emotional intelligence, understanding and compassion for their world and they have grown to know themselves intimately. Many of them have moved from being cared for, to being the carers of children, parents and grandparents.

Yet, the admirable qualities of tenacity, resilience, motivation and passion that the mature aged student possesses along with their multi-skilled and learned talents seem to have no support from government or other organisations to support their transition into this new era.

The government desperately needs the mature age student. The severe shortage of health workers is becoming an epidemic of mythic proportions. Government is throwing money at education facilities in the form of scholarships and bursaries, discounted health care programs, commonwealth supported undergraduate degrees and Austudy. And yet, we are faced with a post-study debt that continues to make study a financially debilitating endeavour.

Most of the Government subsidies such as Austudy are aimed at school leavers, many whom are still living with parents or have financial support from family members, This subsidy doesn’t even cover the rent for most mature aged students, in fact moving from Newstart allowance to Austudy in order to study full time, rent assistance is removed entirely. Why is it assumed that if you are an older student you no longer pay rent?

Centrelink Newstart offers marginally more financial support, but only if you are looking for full time work whilst studying. Working full time precludes full time study if either is going to be of any worthwhile quality. Part time study requires part time work, but this is no-mans land and there is no support at all, and yet this is the reality for the majority of mature aged students with family commitments thrown in.

The Commonwealth supported placements in health care have helped, certainly, but does the government understand how expensive the educational costs such as books, equipment, uniforms, extracurricular requirements such as vaccinations, CPR certificates, travel to placements, etc. are for the student in a health related undergraduate degree, not to mention the ancillary costs like day care and days of work lost due to placements, residential schools, lectures and tutes. It’s astronomical.

Educational Institutions are trying, but still falling short in helping mature aged students to make ends meet and raise their families whilst noses are in the books. Many Universities have grants and equity funding for financial hardship situations, but these programs are not promoted. Flexible, online and distance education is becoming a very efficient and do-able method of learning offered by many Universities and this intelligent use of technology is to be commended. I would like to see more educational institutions offering crèche or day care services with government or student services subsidy to assist parents to get to lectures, libraries and allow study time on campus. This would greatly ease the pressures of juggling commitments around family responsibilities.

In these trying financial times, when managing the cost of living has raised beyond the reach of most single income families, it seems remiss for the government to leave the financial assistance to independent charities and welfare organisations such as the Salvation Army and the Smith Family. But for many, turning to welfare assistance has become a depressing and humbling reality… ‘Thank God for the Salvos’ has become a common catch cry.

I am a single, white, female who doesn’t own my own home, who stands independently from her parents, with two toddlers who require full time focus and attention, and who has experienced the pain and suffering of the world alongside the wondrous and exciting. I have trialed all that life has to offer, and now I wish to give back via the health care industry. Am I a minority? No. I am the archetype of the next generation of health care workers. I am an example of the type of student the education system needs, the type of worker the health system needs – desperately. I am at a point in life where, through first hand experience, I have learned what it is to care for self and others, and I have honed the skills of commitment, self motivation, compassion and responsibility with which to succeed at my goals.

There is a myriad of support for the under-privileged, uneducated and inexperienced, but virtually nothing for those in the world who are older, and trying to do it for ourselves, who are following our passions despite the challenges and road blocks… and we are ready to help others. We have paid our taxes, we have worked hard, and we are now changing directions. The government and educational institutions need to keep up and lend a greater hand.

By Kristy Lee Rackham©2011
Author of Head Space-Meditate Your Way to Study Success