NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – James Bowen is proving that college isn’t just for students age 18 to 22. Bowen is part of a growing population of older students returning to college, and will be the oldest student at Tennessee State University to receive his degree at the upcoming 2014 Spring Commencement at age 67.
“This is all part of me reinventing myself,” said Bowen, who will graduate with a master’s degree in Educational Technology. “I would like, in the long run, to encourage people to keep on learning. Our education is never complete.”
Bowen first stepped onto the TSU campus in the mid 1960s and played defensive back on the football team under Coach “Big John” Merritt while pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology. He went on to graduate in 1968.
“Things were a lot different back then,” added Bowen. “We were a wild bunch back then and not as dedicated to our studies as students today. Heck, we even had a curfew.”
Bowen left TSU after graduation and pursued different career opportunities, including teaching, but ultimately ended up in sales, where he became one of the top 50 car salesmen in the country. “I was enjoying life and making lots of money while raising a family but there was something missing,” he added. “At age 65, I decided I needed to go back to school to start on my next business venture.”
Bowen is part of a growing trend of older students returning to college and wants to help those returning “navigate the waters” of the admission process and how to approach “younger America.”
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the most significant shift of student growth is probably the massive increase in the adult-student population in higher education in the past 20 years. Thirty-eight percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and one-fourth are over the age of 40. The share of all students who are over age 40 is projected to increase another 23 percent by 2019. It is that growing population Bowen wants to target.
“I want to help others make that leap and provide them some insight on the application process and dealing with students more that half their age,” Bowen added.
Life on campus, added Bowen, as well as students have changed in the 46 years since he left the University. “I want to serve as an inspiration to students age 65 or older who want to return but don’t know where to start.”
Students are more disciplined today, said Bowen, but the biggest challenge he, and perhaps those returning have to deal with, is the advancement of technology. He has been required to learn everything from computers to mobile devices and social media.
“It’s was tough at first,” said Bowen. “I started the process early so I could prepare myself for what would be thrown my way. I started with an email address, which I never had, bought a computer and started teaching myself the basics. I then slowly learned about the different social media platforms and how they all connected.”
Now that he is ready to graduate, Bowen is not only ready to share what he learned with others, but remain on campus with other students and continue learning. A life-long learner, he eventually wants to teach.
“Since being here at Tennessee State University, I’ve acquired this hunger and thirst for education,” Bowen said. “I would love to continue my studies and go into agricultural education and go into teaching. It’s a passion.”
At graduation on May 10, family members from around Nashville will file into Hale Stadium and turn out to support Bowen. They include his children, ex-wife, grandchildren and various other family members.
“I want to show my family members and anyone else that if you dream it, you can do it,” said Bowen. “I am proud to be an inspiration to others, whether they’re in their 30s, 40s, or even their 90s, and let them know that it’s never too late to chase your dreams.”
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With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.