By: Jessie Archambault

Frank Defalco, 48, started his first semester studying public relations at Algonquin this January. Last year, he was laid off due to federal budget cuts from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, where he was a web public service officer for 10 years.

“I can’t live the lifestyle of a student, I’m a family man,” said Defalco on the financial challenges that have emerged from his return to school. With two young children, one on the way and a stay-at-home wife, Defalco is facing struggles a mature student encounters.

To help him adjust, he discovered the Mature Student Network club gives an opportunity for students in similar situation to meet and get support when needed.

“Nobody really knows about mature students,” said Ania Kwak a mature student representative. She explained that the club is a way to connect them.  Kwak, 28, added that there are approximately 4,000 mature students on campus.

One of them is Almir Buljubasic, 33, who has never attended a meeting organized by the club. “I wouldn’t make a difference between mature students and students,” said the computer system technician student. But, mature students have less time to study than younger students who don’t have families or other obligations, Buljubasic said.

“[My wife] doesn’t let me do housework,” he said. “So I have more time to study.”

The club’s monthly meetings offer guest speakers such as counsellors that discuss themes relevant to mature students and their situation. On average, these meetings bring a dozen members together, said Kwak.

Often, mature students get mistaken for professors or staff members.

Wojciech Gulajski, 53, recalls with an amused look an incident where he arrived slightly late to a new class at the beginning of a semester. When he walked in, he said, everyone became quiet, thinking he was their new professor.

Both club mentors believe the club should be run “by mature students, for mature students,” Kwak said. She will be graduating this spring in public relations, while Gulajski will be done in August in the interactive multimedia program.

Mature students include anyone that was “typically out of school for a while,” said Kwak. This would includes a 20-year-old student who took a couple years off after graduating high school, Kwak said. But the age difference can be larger in some cases.

“There’s a generation between us,” said Defalco on the age difference between him and his classmates. “I’m the old fart,” he said, laughing.