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Students’ motivations and goals vary

Are you a returning adult student? The answer may surprise you.

Autumn Sanchez
Autumn Sanchez

At UW–Madison, we define a returning adult student as someone 25 years or older who is resuming college or professional development after a break in time. Whether they’re completing a single course, a training program or a degree, many returning adult students are internally motivated to improve their workplace skills, secure a better job or expand their horizons.

Below, two adult students share what inspired them to return to the classroom and how their education is making a positive difference in their professional and personal lives.

Finding her inner coach

When Community Development Director Julie Stephenson was approached by the CEO of her employer to develop an employee coaching program as a retention and recruitment strategy, she was excited about the opportunity to add value to the organization’s work environment.

Julie Stephenson

To achieve this specialized training, Stephenson completed UW–Madison’s nine-month Professional Coaching Program, an experience she describes as transformational.

“Not only did I learn the skills and mindsets that make for impactful coaching, but I also experienced the powerful effects of coaching firsthand,” Stephenson says. “In taking this class, I realized I’d never truly been coached before — and in my professional experience, I realized I haven’t been a true coach either.”

She says the program has had a profound impact on her work and led her to trust herself and others more.

“The program helped unravel what I thought I knew about being in service to employees,” Stephenson explains. “I’ve become much more aware of my own ideas, ego and biases and how I often relied on or led with those instead of letting them go and listening.”

Getting down to business

Troy Marinkovic’s first attempt at college didn’t go as he’d hoped. It was the wrong time for him personally, and he found he wasn’t yet prepared for the responsibilities of higher education.

For years, the failure to capitalize on that first opportunity loomed large on my conscience, but I let perceived obstacles hold me back from returning to school,” Marinkovic explains.

Troy Marinkovic

Encouragement from his now-wife motivated him to pursue his higher education dreams. After earning an associate degree at Madison College, Marinkovic enrolled in the fully virtual UW–Madison Online, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration— marketing.

“One of the great things about postsecondary education is that it broadens your horizons and opens you up to new opportunities,” says Marinkovic. “Thanks to a business law course I took as part of my business degree program, I realized that I want to continue my education after I graduate next spring. I will be applying to law schools in the fall!”

He encourages other adults considering a return to education or training to conduct a little research.

“You might be surprised by the options out there and find one that fits your particular circumstances,” he says. “Since I’ve returned to college, I have kept my full-time job, gotten married, bought a house and made new friends along the way — all while pursuing my degree. If I can do it, anyone can.”

As lifelong learners, we know there is no expiration date for learning, and everyone has unique reasons for returning to education. What are yours?

The Lifelong Learner is a monthly feature written by UW–Madison’s Continuing Studies staff. Autumn Sanchez, UW–Madison adult student advisor, can be reached at This article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on July 9, 2023.