Empty Nest Mom Heads Back to College

Baby boomers, too, head back to campus this fall.

ByABC News via logo
September 6, 2007, 2:13 PM

Sept. 7, 2007 — -- Intermingled with the fresh faces of first-time freshmen at the nation's universities this fall are some nontraditional students.

"The number of adult learners is increasing rapidly," said Brian Pusser at the University of Virginia. "There will be over a million baby boomers enrolled this fall, some for personal enrichment, others to gain degrees and skills to position themselves for the knowledge-based economy."

Journalism major Cindy Downes is part of a growing trend of adult students over the age of 45 flocking to college campuses.

The 57-year-old is a sophomore at Oklahoma State University, and her original journey to campus began in 1968.

"I got a Betty Crocker Homemakers Award scholarship and off I went," she said. "I was going to be a home-economics teacher."

After spending two years at the University of Delaware, Downes' academic goals wavered. And when Downes married Bill, her long-time love, she decided to drop out of school.

"I got my "Mrs. degree" you could say," she said. "[It's] a degree I still have."

Yet her decision to leave college left her uneasy and weighed heavily on her. Then when her father died in 2005, Downes' re-evaluated her long-ago decision.

"He was devastated when I dropped out, because here I had a scholarship," she said. "[I] was going to be the first child ever in the family to get a college degree, and I quit."

Downes said she knew that decision had really disappointed her father.

So, using the money he left her, Downes decided to honor her father by hitting the books and going back to finish what she started.

"I am determined to get as many A's as possible," she said.

Her determination drives her to arrive at school hours before her classmates.

Downes also studies two to three hours a day. She has even gotten a jump-start on her journalistic career by starting a blog called "Empty Nest Mom Goes to College."

But Downes doesn't blaze the college trail alone. When she hits the college grounds, one familiar face is there with her. Her daughter Shelly, who was inspired by her mother, has also returned to college this year.