OPINION: Returning to college at 40


Taken in front of the Kent Student Center, the photo of Kelly Krabill’s family stand in front of campus as Bob Krabill graduated. 

Kelly Krabill Opinion Writer

Many working adults reach their 30s and want to switch careers. Family dynamics, living situations and jobs shift as you get older. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one in five college students are at least 30 years old.

Bob Krabill met his wife in college. He saw her from across the tennis court at Kent State University and asked her out for coffee. They sat in a small coffee shop in Stow. Surrounded by brown-painted walls and two-person tables, they sipped their hot coffee and talked about life.

Bob was not a typical college student. He was 32. He joined the navy after high school. Returning home from the San Diego navy base, he got a job hauling a semi. It paid the bills, but he had other aspirations.

He wanted a career that gave him purpose. He wanted to help people.

Driving down Route 44 during fall is really pretty. Leaves change from green to orange and corn fields go on for miles. During the fall of 1973, it was Bob’s first semester at Kent.

He went to school during the day and worked the midnight shift at night. Household bills still had to be paid. He worked hard. But he did it. Four years later he graduated college and finished his first degree. He married the girl he saw from across the tennis court and they started a family.

He continued to drive a semi after college. For nine years, Bob hauled heavy material and returned home just in time to tuck his kids in for bed.

I remember the day he switched careers and changed the course of his life to better himself and his family. I remember the day he began working in a field he loved. I attended his graduation. His second graduation. Black graduation caps were thrown into the air. Families lined up to take pictures of their graduate. And Bob completed his master’s degree in social work, at the age of 45.

A picture sits at the top of my stairs, hanging on the wall. Bob is wearing his cap and gown with the tennis court girl and their three children. A Kent State parking lot sits in the background. I am in the picture wearing a white and pink dress with freshly cut hair. My younger brother stands next to me while my older brother stands behind me. The tennis court girl is my mother and Bob Krabill is my father.

At 45, Bob (my dad) changed his life. And he never looked back. He spent the last 30 years of his life working in a field he loved. Social work gave him purpose. Working with disabled adults enriched and challenged his life. He went after his dream. And he empowered us, his family, to do the same.

At 39 years old, I drive down Route 44 every week to go to class at Kent. I went to college after high school and received a few degrees. I moved to New York City for three months the day after my college graduation in 2007. After returning home, transferring from the Starbucks in Manhattan to the Starbucks in Canton, I needed a full-time job. I needed a better paying job. I got a job working in health insurance.

After working in the health insurance industry for 11 years, I told my boss about my college plans. I handed her my letter of resignation. As we sat in her office, the thoughts of building relationships with colleagues over the years, helping clients with their insurance questions and training new employees, flooded my mind. Tears flowed and interrupted my ability to speak. 

My coworkers celebrated my last day with lunch, a generous gift-card and a “we’ll miss you” card. I walked out of the building feeling excited and uncertain of all the unknowns. It’s a big step. I have not been in a college classroom in 13 years. It took a year of planning. How will I go to school full-time and still earn an income?

I began working for my family business my first semester back to college. My dad founded the company in 2008 when he began transporting three individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to and from work. The business has grown over the years and several part-time drivers currently transport the individuals. After my dad passed away from a five-year battle with pulmonary fibrosis in 2017, my mom took over the business.

I used to come home from my job of 11 years, make dinner and plant myself on the couch after an exhausting workday. A few evenings a week, dinner plans with friends or family visits occupied my time.

Many of my peers return back to college and try to balance a spouse, kids and studying.

Deciding to change careers has uprooted my schedule and brought new disciplines. Walking across the gradation stage to receive my degree in journalism will be a day to celebrate. But for now, buying textbooks each semester, researching online to write papers, memorizing flashcards for weekly quizzes and staying up late to finish homework is my life at 40. Well, almost 40.

Kelly Krabill is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected].


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.