For these mature students, the pivot to online programs has meant the chance at a new career

When the pandemic hit and post-secondary offerings went online, Colleen Reed saw an opportunity she didn’t have before that would help further her career.

The Hamilton-based single mother of four and full-time personal support worker said that virtual courses meant she could go finally back to school, while still being able to care for her children and pay her bills.

Reed, 39, had worked 16 years as a personal-support worker when she started the pre-health sciences advanced pathway program at Mohawk College in September, 2021. She hopes to study nursing following the one-year program.

While many have struggled with learning online, mature students like Reed — those with children or full-time jobs — see it as an opportunity and hope for the continuation of either online or a hybrid model. 

A return to in-person would pose a challenge for Reed, whose program hasn’t been offered in continuing education — the courses geared for adults often held in the evenings. 

“I would either have to stop classes or see if the college would move some of my classes to online or to continuing education,” Reed said, “or, I would like literally have to go to work and beg co-workers to make switches with me.”

Reed said her co-workers are on standby to help her out with the expected return to in-person — an exact return date is unclear, while courses remain online for January — but the strain on her schedule to accommodate in-person classes and full-time work would be a lot on her plate.

“If I do that, then that means the days that I am off from school, that I should be studying and reviewing and doing all that stuff, now I [would be] working 16-hour work days,” Reed said.

‘The only option I have to make a better life’

Other mature students relate to Reed. Burlington resident Shannon Cluff, a 38-year-old single mother to eight-year-old Mackinley, is currently in her first year of Mohawk’s two-year, full-time educational support diploma program.

Cluff says the online option for these kinds of diplomas is more inclusive for students with similar considerations.

“Going back to school and being successful is the only option I have to make a better life for us,” Cluff said of her family.

“I believe that Mohawk needs to pivot their learning and teaching models as well as open up the permanent opportunities to do online learning that is not part of the continuing education program,” Cluff said.

The flexibility that virtual learning provides has been tremendously supportive.– CEBERT ADAMSON, MOHAWK COLLEGE

Reed said she is hoping that a flexible or hybrid model of education will be permanently offered to her — and to potential new students, like her work colleagues. 

“A lot of the girls that I work with found out that I’m doing this and two of them have applied for January start,” she said. 

“They’re realizing you don’t have to quit your job.”

Changes expected for winter term

Students at Mohawk College can expect an update by early this week on what the winter term will look like, Cebert Adamson, vice president of students, international and alumni, told CBC Hamilton.

Adamson said the college has heard many student concerns around program delivery and is using that information to create a plan that it hopes will be beneficial to all students.

“Given some of the challenges that [students] will have in terms of their own childcare or other family responsibilities, those students who are sometimes self-employed or employed, the flexibility that virtual learning provides has been tremendously supportive for their own activities,” he said. 

According to the college, students who are not coming directly from high school — instead enrolling after university or returning for a second career — make up 80 per cent of those studying there.

“The main [thing] is making sure that our students are satisfied that they are getting the best quality college experience when they come to Mohawk,” Adamson said. 

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