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Former soap opera actor Paul Satterfield, 51, is studying for a master's degree at Drury University with plans to become a teacher.
Former soap opera actor Paul Satterfield, 51, is studying for a master's degree at Drury University with plans to become a teacher.

College classrooms lure older students

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Following his latest role as Dr. Spencer Truman on the recently cancelled soap opera “One Life to Live,” Paul Satterfield is now pursuing his master’s degree in education at Drury University.

Satterfield, 51, is among baby boomers who are drawn to the classroom by myriad factors to continue their educations.

“Some are retired and revisiting a passion,” Joan Barrett, associate vice chancellor for student affairs for Ozarks Technical Community College, said of students in the baby boomer generation, or roughly between the ages of 48 and 66.

“Many folks are realizing they have to work longer and want to maximize their earnings or switch careers, “ she added.

Satterfield is on the younger end of the baby boomer scale. He spent the past two decades as an actor, mostly in guest spots on sitcoms and recurring roles in soap operas such as “General Hospital.”

“I was a working actor and made a living, a pretty good living at it,” he said.

Only a handful of soap operas now remain on television, and scripted prime time television shows are continuously being nudged out by reality shows, Satterfield said, noting he started thinking about a new career direction before the soap cancellations began.

During his run on “One Life to Live,” his children lived in Springfield with his now-ex-wife so they could be closer to her family, so he was already somewhat familiar with the city.

“In many ways, acting is a young man’s game, and the commute from New York City was miserable,” Satterfield said. “I’m extremely realistic and wanted to get involved in something I could use as a second career.”

Satterfield attended Whitman College in Washington state in the early 1980s on a basketball scholarship, earning a degree in English literature.

“I thought it would be a shame not to use my undergraduate degree in a new career,” he said, noting that he decided to pursue teaching after working as a substitute for Springfield Public Schools.

Satterfield is one year into a two-year program at Drury that will allow him to earn a master’s degree in education and a chance to coach, as well as teach English – and maybe drama – at the middle school level.

Bev Reichert, executive director of education services for Drury’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies, said that 311 students at Drury this semester, or about 9 percent of the school’s total student population, fall into the baby boomer demographic.

Reichert said Satterfield is one of a growing number of nontraditional students who are returning to school to earn degrees toward obtaining teaching certification.

“We’ve heard this is a growing trend on the coasts and we’ve seen a little of this and do expect this trend to grow,” she said.

School district budget constraints have limited opportunities for some teaching jobs, but Reichert said that depends on skill sets.

“If it’s math, science or special education, there’s always opportunities in those areas,” Reichert said.

Satterfield said he’s not concerned, although those areas are not his focus. “I have the experience of playing college basketball and the years in acting,” said Satterfield, who continues to act in online productions to stay on top of industry trends.

At OTC, where about 4.5 percent of the 15,000-plus student population fits into the baby boomer age group, Barrett said many nontraditional students are returning to school to study in an allied health program.

“They are hearing of good opportunities in health care. Some may already work in the field, but others make a complete turnaround and change careers,” Barrett said.

At Webster University, the master’s degrees in business and health administration are popular with baby boomers, said Senior Director Laura Ward.

“In the past year, we have seen more students in their late 40s and 50s,” she said, noting that about 35 percent of the school’s enrollment comprises baby boomers. “Most of them have been motivated by their employers, and they’re looking for that next step in their careers.”

Many area colleges and universities, including OTC and Missouri State University, have programs that encourage students on the higher end of the baby boomer scale – typically 60 or older – to head back to school and take at least one class per semester without all of the usual fees.

Roughly 5 percent of MSU’s student population is older than 40, according to Don Simpson, associate vice president for enrollment management. MSU’s fee waiver program allows students age 62 and older to enroll for one class a semester. While student fees are waived, participants must still pay for books, special course fees such as art or lab fees, and parking.

Sue Dover, assistant for adult student services at MSU, said the long-running program is at its highest point this semester, with more than 50 students enrolled.

While older students have to set a schedule that fits with the rest of their obligations, most schools have tools available, such as tutors and computer labs, to help with other challenges such as using technology or taking online courses.  

Having students of all ages in class together is beneficial, school officials say.

“Adults enjoy being in a class with other students, but a nice blending of ages is exhilarating,” Reichert said. “Life experience is their greatest attribute.”[[In-content Ad]]


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