Lifelong Learning

A Degree at Last

Meet six soon-to-be CSU graduates, each of whom forged a unique path to commencement in their 50s and beyond.​​​


When the Class of 2019 graduates this spring, hundreds of CSU students might stick out a bit in the vast crowd of revelers across our 23 campuses. They're the ones likely to be flashing bigger smiles than anyone else.

That's because sometimes life's achievements are sweeter when you have to wait for them: And for these graduates—all of whom will be over the age of 50 when they cross the stage to receive their diploma—the waiting, and the hard work of earning their degree, is over.

Even though the conventional image of a college student remains a young adult, the truth is that the face (and age) of the student body is changing as more people are starting or finishing their degree later in life. In fact, more than 4,500 students age 50 and older enrolled at the CSU for the fall 2018 semester.

Photo of Ingrid  

Ingrid El Idrissi, 56
Chico State | B.S., Nursing

“I actually enjoyed going back. I learned I'm stronger than I think I am and I can accomplish this dream."

“I had family obligations. I'm the main breadwinner and work as an RN. I finally just started kind of plugging away at all the preliminary courses I had to have, but I had setbacks. I had to be out of work for a year due to surgeries. When I went back, my father ended up being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so I took time off to work with my dad. Then he passed.

"I live in Humboldt but chose Chico State because it's my father's alma mater. It's just a great way to be able to honor my dad and get a degree.

"The need to learn how to use your computer to submit assignments and get your assignments was quite a shock. The whole electronic thing was a nightmare for me to begin with. Once I got used to that, I was like, OK, I can do this."


Jesse Carmona, 59
CSU Long Beach | B.A., Theatre Arts

“I was determined to make an impression that I'm no different than any student here and I'm going to do my best."

“Growing up in the barrio of East Los Angeles in the '60s and '70s, higher education opportunities were seldom. Educators in my high school were vague about my chances after graduating.

"As a low-income Mexican American, I was not encouraged to pursue college but to find work to support my family. Everyone was a laborer in my family. I worked on the train tracks, loading carts.

"Now, at CSU Long Beach, I have a grade point average of 4.0. It was kind of frightening at first, because very few people my age come back to college and are in a room with a bunch of 20-year-olds. I'd make a joke to break the ice in class and say, 'What's my father doing here?' Now I'm part of the gang."



Marc Schillinger, 68
CSU Channel Islands | Teaching Credential

“I'd been out of high school for 50 years. You're never too old for school. You should keep learning your whole life."

“I worked for 41 years in the environmental industry. At my 30th high school reunion in 1998, they asked us to put down what we thought we'd be doing in 10 years and I wrote down 'teacher.' But I just wasn't able to quit my job because of financial responsibilities. In 2017, I retired and started coursework at Channel Islands.

"School was a lot different than what I remembered. I wasn't used to working in groups, but I liked the interaction with the students. They really treated me like a fellow student. Sometimes the teacher might ask a question and I'd have a different view of it because I was there in the '60s. (I'd often clarify, not the 1860s).  

"Technology was the biggest struggle for me because, back in the day, we used slide rulers in the engineering department. And abstract algebra​I'd never heard of it before. 

"It's something I've wanted to do for such a long time and I'm really thankful I've had the opportunity to do this. I encourage people to go for it."

Rod 1 Rod 2

Slide the divider from left to right to see Rod and Melissa in 2003 and in 2019

Rod St. Amant, 55
CSU Fullerton | B.A., Geography

“My daughter Melissa is the amazing one. I'm just an old guy taking one class at a time."

“Nobody in my family had ever gone to college. I ended up going to work as a mechanic. Around 35, I got my associate's degree and transferred to Cal State Fullerton. Seeing my dad pass had me thinking about my kids a lot. I was putting a lot of time in with school. So I put college on the back burner to be a dad and raise a family.

"Fast forward to my daughter Melissa being in college. She transferred to Fullerton and said, 'Hey Dad, you should go back to school with me.' I kind of just laughed at it, but the next thing I know, she's got me signed up.

"Our first semester, we carpooled. She'd pick me up, we would drive to campus together and have dinner. It was just neat being on campus with her at the same time. We'd talk about classes and study together for midterms. We teased each other and said, 'OK, whoever gets the better grade in the midterm, the other one has to buy dinner that night.' I'll be graduating on May 18 and she'll be graduating on May 19. She's super proud of me."

Rod 1 Rod 2

Slide the divider from left to right to see Rod and Melissa at Newport Beach in 2003 and in 2019.

Photo of Tina Howell 

Tina Howell, 54
CSU San Marcos | Multiple-subject Teaching Credential

“I didn't feel like I belonged in college. But I met some wonderful professors along the way who took me aside and, at my lowest points, kept reminding me the fight wasn't inside the classroom, it wasn't outside the classroom. The biggest fight was within myself."

“As a child, I went to 18 different schools, so it wasn't easy. I dropped out of high school when I was 16 and didn't think college was for me. I had two kids and kept telling them they had to go to college. They turned the tables around and said, 'Well, you didn't go to college, Mom, so why should we?' So to show my kids the right path, I began, with the help of my husband, the process of going to school.

"My first day of school, I thought I was totally in the wrong place. When I looked around, the people in the classroom were 20 to 30 years younger than me. Even the professor was younger than me. It was very awkward. I remember thinking, If I make it through this class, I'm gonna get in my car and go home because I don't belong here.

"I'm graduating magna cum laude in May. I've learned not to give up and that even when the road is difficult, you can forge a path through the difficulties and keep moving forward."


Joshua Gordon, 54
CSUN | B.A., Psychology

“I was able to receive a much richer experience as a direct result of my age."

“I had undiagnosed ADHD, depression and anxiety when I was younger and found the school environment difficult. I went on to be a professional musician for 10 years. I took classes here and there at community college and decided to just jump in and pursue it full-time.

"In 2016, I was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer and had to take the spring semester off to undergo chemo and radiation. I re-enrolled in the fall of 2017; I'm in remission right now.

"Ninety-five percent of the time, I was the oldest person in my classroom by a great margin. Sometimes I felt like I was the weird old guy. Like I was the cautionary tale: 'Study hard now, kids. You don't want to be here in 30 years, do you?'

"I'm glad I didn't go to college when I was younger because I couldn't have appreciated it like I do at this age. Every day I parked my car and walked out into the open campus, I'd take it all in and really be in the moment and feel like I'm getting to participate in something special. The greatest thing I learned is if I could move from being someone who's 'not a math person' to someone who likes math, then my identity of myself isn't necessarily true. And that means anything is possible."


Never Stop Learning

To ease the transition back to college, the CSU provides options ranging from adult reentry programs to online and hybrid courses to Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE)​. According to Sheila Thomas, Ed.D., assistant vice chancellor and dean of PaCe, lifelong learning is now more important than ever. “Those who are creative, good problem-solvers and good team players will always be in demand, regardless of how drastically the workforce landscape changes,"  notes Dr. Thomas. "And the CSU is helping to prepare its students, no matter what age, to become just that."

Visit the CSU's​ PaCE site to find information about degrees, certificate programs, Open University and online courses.