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    LaTisha Hightower, a nontraditional NCCU student, returns to college a decade to reach goals that fulfill her dreams of being a pharmacist and a neurology researcher. Photo by Bruce dePyssler/Echo Adviser.

Decades later, nontraditional students return to the books


Lack of focus, unexpected pregnancy, frustration, money problems, time management issues, student loan debt and life’s unexpected twists and turns are only a few of the reasons that young students drop out of college.

The flip side of these young students walking out on their college careers, is the revolving door of those older students who have come to realize that they simply have to return to college and earn their degree to get ahead in life.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011, 38 percent of students who were enrolled in college were over the age of 25. One-fourth of that population included students over 30.

Currently NCCU has over 1,200 students enrolled over the age of 25, according to the 2015-2016 Eagles Facts In Brief Report.

Latisha Hightower, a 39-year-old sophomore at N.C. Central University, falls into that population of nontraditional students.

“I wanted a career and not a job,” said Hightower, a mother of two teenage girls. “Not having a college degree limited me not only financially, but in my life

In 1995, Hightower graduated from Bartlett Yancey High School and immediately enrolled into N.C. State University to study biochemistry.

Like many college students, Hightower changed her major twice. Five years later with a new baby, a mountain of student loan debt and still no degree, she dropped out.

Without a degree, she was forced to work a series of menial jobs.

When she looked around at her college educated friends, she realized they had professions that paid decent salaries, but required a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Now, over a decade later, Hightower attends NCCU as a full-time student. She says she has a renewed sense of purpose to complete her degree.

She is now working to complete a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical science. Hightower said her goals are to be a pharmacist and eventually do research in neurology.

Her recommendation to younger students: “It is better to do things right the first time around, than to have to go back and do it again.”

Later in life she advised: “You have other responsibilities that will make it harder.”

Amy Currle is a 47-year-old senior at NCCU studying English.

In 1987, after attaining her GED with honors she attended Greenville Community College for two semesters. Then life happened.

She got married at 21, but the marriage was a short one. Then she got a good job as a secretary at Kanematsu, a global materials and products corporation, for two years.

Currle had a difficult time deciding between returning to school and making good money at the good jobs she worked over the years.

Over the next 26 years she alternated between attending college for a few semesters, and stopping to work full-time.

“Deep down I always wanted to go to college and complete undergrad, I just wasn’t sure in what,” she said. “I changed my major 13 times over the course of my college career.”

She said a defining moment in her life was in 2008, when she went to Guadalajra, Mexico to teach English as a foreign language.

She realized that was her passion. At the end of 2013, she applied to NCCU to complete her undergraduate degree in English.

After graduating in the spring of 2017, Currle plans to attend graduate school to become an English college professor. Currle, at 47, will become the first college graduate in her family.

“It is your privilege and not you’re right to obtain a higher education,” said Currle.

“So my advice to anyone considering dropping out is to make a list of why you’re not happy versus what you actually want after school. Do not make any fast decisions.”

Story written by Echo reporter Dana Anthony

The Campus Echo is the official student newspaper of N.C. Central University, an HBCU in Durham with about 8,250 students. The Campus Echo is one of the most highly recognized HBCU student newspapers in the nation. In the last 15 years our print and online editions have won over 250 national and regional awards from the Black College Communication Association, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Associated Collegiate Press and the North Carolina College Media Association.

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