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Back in the education saddle

By Samuel Finch / Staff Writer

studying (Frank Acosta / staff photographer)

By Samuel Finch / Staff Writer

The economic crisis and subsequent layoffs have encouraged many to return to school.

Over the past four years students age 35 and over have accounted for 19-20 percent of the Riverside Community College District population.

Lehua De Los Santos is in many respects, much like her classmates at Riverside City College. What one may not realize at first glance is that she is a returning student, mother of two, and an accomplished member of the workforce.

Leaving her home in Beaumont each morning with plenty of time allowed for bad traffic conditions and enough time to hunt for parking, she arrives everyday focused and ready to work hard.

De Los Santos really enjoys her instructors and can often be seen chatting with fellow students between classes, backpack slung over one shoulder. Going back to school is not always an easy transition.

Returning students face many challenges their younger classmates don’t generally have to deal with. But while the responsibilities of parenthood may give rise to new issues, they can also be the spark that cultivates inspiration.

“Primarily I came back to school to set an example for my two kids, who are 8 and 13 years old,” De Los Santos said.

Unexpectedly laid off from Loma Linda University Medical Center in 2008, she had worked as an inpatient account analyst and contract specialist for nearly a decade.

“I might as well get the paper behind the experience,” De Los Santos said in that time of change.

In the fall of 2010 she enrolled with the guidance of the CAP (Community for Academic Progress) Program which afforded her priority registration and eased the difficulties of arranging childcare.

There she was introduced to Tara McCarthy, educational advisor for the Office of Academic Support.

“She goes above and beyond helping the students get what they need to succeed,” De Los Santos said of McCarthy.

“One thing I have noticed with returning students is their strong drive and motivation,” said McCarthy.

Working with students each day Tara McCarthy has seen similar stories of people unemployed and out of work returning to college to gain new skills motivated to make a change in their lives.

Some returning students seek associate degrees or technical certificates while others plan to transfer to four-year universities. Others came back to improve existing skills.

Dean of Academic Support, Marilyn Martinez-Flores spoke about the growing trend of returning students enrolling in the nursing and physician’s assistant programs.

From 2007 to 2010, students aged 35 and over have filled between 30-50 percent of these areas of study.

De Los Santos, however, is studying sociology and law in society with hopes of earning her associate’s degree as well as transferring to a university. She has shown some interest in attending UC Riverside.

She hopes to put her degree to use by helping those who share her Hawaiian heritage with their particular social issues.

Like many returning students, De Los Santos struggled to juggle her family life with her studies, but once organization and time efficiency were firmly established in her life the balance became more manageable.

Traveling expenses and textbooks have posed the greatest financial challenges, though the bookstore’s rental option has reduced this to a manageable degree.

Aside from her children and a greater range of life experience than her peers, De Los Santos is not much different than other outstanding students.

“They’re very techno savvy!” She said with a laugh of her younger classmates.

In the end De Los Santos is extremely happy to be back in school studying to get her degree as she has realized the value of education.

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