Penn State's Commission for Adult Learners celebrates 20 years

May 08, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Brian Ferraccio graduated from high school, he went straight into the workforce for about 10 years in property management and human resources. But he grew unsatisfied and decided he needed to make a career change. The first step was getting his college degree.

“At age 27, I felt like I didn’t have time to waste,” said Ferraccio, who lives near Apollo, Pennsylvania. “I had a mortgage, and we were starting a family. I wanted to get as high quality of an education as possible.”

Ferraccio is just one of the thousands of successful students who came to Penn State as adult learners, or those who were older than traditional-age students and balanced multiple roles while going to school, such as caring for their families or parents, working or serving in the military.

Ferraccio enrolled in 2011 at Penn State New Kensington, one of the University’s Commonwealth Campuses. He went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2013 and now, in 2018, is in the last phase of a doctoral program in psychology.

“I didn’t know anything about college — I’m first generation,” he said, referring to being the first of his immediate family to get a degree. “I want my kids to see that what you put your mind to you can do.”

A group at Penn State, the Commission for Adult Learners, is composed of faculty, staff and students who are dedicated to improving the experience of undergraduates like Ferraccio. This year marks its 20th anniversary.

“Since the formation of the Commission for Adult Learners 20 years ago, the University has seen a consistent and growing rise in the number of adults and veterans returning to Penn State to complete their undergraduate degrees,” said Jamie Campbell, chair of the commission and assistant dean for diversity enhancement programs at the Penn State Smeal College of Business. “It has been an honor for the CAL to be able to assist this growing population in their journey.”

In the 2016-17 academic year, the number of undergraduate adult learners was 17,075, or 20 percent of the total Penn State student population. It also represented a 3 percent increase over 2007-08, in the first decade of the committee’s existence. Adult learners attend Penn State at the University Park campus, the Commonwealth Campuses and online through Penn State World Campus.

Here is a look at other adult learners who are reaching for success across Penn State.

Diana Forry, 29, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, wouldn’t have imagined that she’d have the chance to go on an educational trip to London. She had served four years in the Air Force and when she enrolled at Penn State Altoona in 2013, she faced a lot of uncertainty about her future.

But, a few years later, she was walking the streets of London and learning about British literature with an English class from Penn State Altoona.

 “Hands down, it was one of the best experiences at Penn State,” she said.

Forry graduated in 2016 with bachelor’s degrees in English and criminal justice. Since then, she’s enrolled in a master’s degree program at another university and hopes to get her doctorate.

Forry looks back fondly on the faculty who were so supportive.

“They fostered the most amazing learning environment,” she said. “They allowed me to make what I wanted for myself. They were right there backing me.”

Jeremy Hoffman, 24, just finished his first year at the University Park campus. He was crewmaster of KC103J cargo aircraft in the Marine Corps for five years and said he knew for months prior to getting out of the military that he would need another career. He decided to major in nursing.

He said the college environment was a shock at first: He was the oldest student in his freshman nursing courses. But, he sought to be a mentor.

“We have different perspectives,” he said. “I don’t see myself as superior to them because I happen to be older than them.”

Hoffman joined the Penn State chapter of the Student Nursing Association of Pennsylvania to network with faculty. He dedicated a few hours each week to the organization and attended the state convention in the fall. He also organized a care package drive for his Marine Corps crew, and the organization’s members collected 275 pounds of goods to send overseas.

“That made a huge impression on me,” he said.

Penn State World Campus student Fitzroy Lewis, 55, of Myerstown, Pennsylvania, visited the University Park campus in April to receive a writing award from the Department of English. It was a special moment for him, so he wanted his wife and four children to experience it with him.

“They’re part of my success because they kind of sacrifice with me,” he said.

He is working toward completing a bachelor’s degree in letters, arts and sciences while he juggles his family life and a job that sometimes requires more than 40 hours a week.

“You have challenges, but when you’re driven by a goal, you see light out there and want to keep reaching,” he said. “For me it’s that desire that I have to learn so that I can be more effective at what I do.”

Visit the Commission for Adult Learners website to learn more about the commission’s advocacy.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 12, 2021