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COLLEGE GIVES GOOD VALUE FOR `OLD' GRADS

Attention, all you older, "non-traditional" college students who are pooped because you're juggling classes, studying, jobs and children.

The American Council on Education has good news.A recent ACE report says adults who earn their college degrees after age 30 get higher average wages than their younger colleagues and are less likely to be underemployed a year after graduation.

About one-sixth of the nation's 1.05 million college graduates were 30 years old or older in 1991, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The American Council on Education took NCES data and compared the youngest group (23 and younger) with the oldest (30 and up).

ACE found found that older grads enjoyed "distinctly higher" average salaries than their younger counterparts.

One year after graduation, the older graduates made an average of $28,961, contrasted with the younger people's average wage of $21,905.

Also, 13 percent of the younger graduates reported their jobs didn't require college degrees, which is a measure of underemployment. Only 4 percent of the older graduates said the same.

"One reason we did this analysis was to answer some questions about how valuable a college degree is for older folks," said David Merkowitz, ACE director of public affairs.

Pretty darn valuable, from what the report shows.

"Some of this information is not surprising. It confirms suspicions you already have - older college grads do somewhat better in terms of earning, they seem to more readily get jobs in their chosen field," he said.

No doubt this is good news for nontraditional Utah college students whose numbers on state campuses remain high.

In the fall of 1993, the University of Utah, Utah State University and Weber State University saw student bodies with an average age of slightly older than 26. The average at Southern Utah University was slightly older than 25.

"I think it shows there is an increasing group of non-traditional students going back go school," said Lisa Peterson, business affairs officer for the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education.

Although the ACE study didn't address why the older graduates do well, one Weber State University official offered a few suggestions.

"Prospective employers look on them as mature, steady and experienced," said Gloria Perez-Jensen, counselor/adviser for WSU's Adult Educational Resource Center.

Adult obligations, such as jobs and families, spur older students into taking a more pragmatic view of their schooling, she said. These students have clear plans and know where they're going, unlike younger people who have the luxury of time to make up their minds about which field to enter.

"They're excellent students and get excellent grades. They're here for one purpose only and it isn't to play. It's to get the degree and get on with their lives," she said.

ACE's Merkowitz agrees with Perez-Jensen. He also notes that many of these students have more experience in the job market and experience counts in getting new or better jobs.

"They may have been working in a particular field and have come to understand the need for a degree to advance in that field," Mer-kowitz said. "Women, in particular, may have begun families early and now are seeing more vocational or professional opportunities, or are making very realistic assessments of their financial status."

However, Merkowitz said a college degree probably isn't the only reason older graduates do well. Instead, it might simply be the crowning touch to several years of work experience that earns someone a better job, a raise or promotion.

"(What) they need to have is that credential, a signal that they've completed a task, they've persevered, they've shown the kind of qualities that employers look for," he said.