Going Back To School After 50

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At 55, Debby Rusovick is not the typical college student. Unless you live in Payson.

Rusovick fits the profile of Gila Community College student, where more than 50 percent are older than 50.

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Debby Rusovick, 54, sits with her bachelor's degree diploma that she recently received from St. Leo's University. She is now working to attain her master's. Rusovick fits the profile of a Gila Community College student, where more than 50 percent are older than 50.

She is pursuing a master's degree in business in hopes of obtaining a better paying job.

"I basically wanted to improve my job and get a better paying job," she said. She wants to become a buyer in the retail industry where she now works.

She received her bachelor's by taking classes online at St. Leo University, based out of Florida.

She said she knew a college degree would be needed to get a better paying job.

"It's hard if you do not have a degree," she said. "It's harder competition."

Rusovick didn't feel uncomfortable re-entering the classroom after decades in the workforce. According to 2005 statistics for Gila Community College, she fits right in.

Todd Haynie, coordinator of marketing and public relations for Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, said the majority of college students in Gila County are older than 50.

In 2005, there were 1,798 college students in Gila County, and 932 of those were at least 50-years-old.

Haynie said of those 932 students, 560 or 25.6 percent were between the ages of 50 and 54 and another 472 or 26.3 were at least 65 years old.

The college offers free in-state tuition to students 55 and older.

State wide, Gila County's aging student population doesn't match what other campuses are seeing.

Haynie said, in his opinion, there are many reasons why seniors are going back to college in their golden years.

More and more baby boomers are retiring now, and most of them are accustomed to a very active lifestyle.

"Part of it is lifelong learning," he said, adding that a lot of seniors want to pick up other hobbies or activities now since they have more time to devote to them.

"When I retire, I think I would like to go back to school and learn some new things," Haynie said,

David Mitchell, state director AARP, said many seniors are going back to school for some intellectual studies.

"They can pick and choose," he said. "They don't like the pressure of competition and grades."

Mitchell said some seniors, like Rusovick, go back to college to gain or update skills for new jobs.

When Rusovick attended her college graduation in Florida, she was surprised at the number of senior citizens who were walking with her that day.

She said it seemed to be a mix between the young and elderly.

"The majority were younger, but two-thirds of the online students were older," she said.

-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 ext. 112 or e-mail mmaresh@payson.com.

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