Audrey Misiura’s education resumed unexpectedly when her son enrolled at Maranatha Baptist University in Wisconsin.
“When we dropped him off, I was brought back to when I went to college,” says Misiura. “I was like, ‘Wow, I want to do this again.'”
As her son settled in, Misiura, who lives in Minnesota, visited with Maranatha Baptist’s education department to explore her options for earning a graduate degree. Now, while her son pursues a bachelor’s credential, Misiura takes online graduate education courses – from the same university – at home.
“It hit me that I need to prepare for empty-nesting,” says Misiura, who has four children still at home. “I do not want to come to the end of this parenting stage and wonder what in the world am I going to do?”
“They feel as if it’s prime time to get their life back on track,” says Alisha Pendleton, associate director of the office of financial aid at New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State College.
Over the past five years, an average of nearly 20 percent of new students attending courses at Thomas Edison had dependents who were college aged, says Pendleton. Those parents may find themselves attending orientation, buying textbooks and setting up a university email account while their children do the same.
Women who broke away from the workforce to raise children may feel an especially strong pull once their kids are grown, says Kerry Hannon, a career expert and author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills.”
“We’re going to see more and more of this,” Hannon says. “You can’t just step away to raise your kids and go back to work.”
While earning a credential or updating a skill set can revitalize parents’ careers, paying for both their children’s educations and their own can leave them feeling financially stretched.
“You don’t want to have debt for yourself and your child, with parent PLUS loans or private education loans,” says Pendleton.
[Learn how to limit debt as an older student.]
Another bump in the road may occur while filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
The FAFSA asks for the number of people in the parents’ household attending college. When several children attend university simultaneously, the federal formula divides the expected family contribution among them, which can increase need-based financial aid for each child.
But students filing the FAFSA cannot automatically count the parent among their college-bound household members, says Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors, a higher education resource site. The question itself directs students not to count parents.
Instead, parents will have to appeal to their child’s college financial aid office to have their tuition costs taken into consideration when determining the child’s financial need.
“The college will want to see proof that the parent really is enrolled in college, such as copies of paid bursar’s bills and grade reports,” Kantrowitz said in an email. “The financial aid office will often call the other school for confirmation.”
[See how to avoid common FAFSA mistakes.]
On the flip side, when college-attending parents file a separate FAFSA for themselves, they can count their child among household members enrolling in college.