At age 66, Joyce Tucker is the oldest undergraduate student at Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA). She enrolled at SPAA in the summer of 2015 after almost five decades of focusing on her family as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
Tucker attempted to earn her bachelor’s degree in the fall of 1968, but soon became pregnant with her first child and left school after her freshman year.
[My daughters] are all finished now, they’ve got their master’s degrees, and are going for their Ph.Ds,” Tucker said. “My husband got his master’s in 2013 from Rutgers, so I said ‘well, it’s my time.’ So I’m here, and if I don’t do anything else, I will accomplish getting my B.A. degree like I promised myself years ago.”
Tucker spent 28 years as a medical receptionist before retiring at age 62 in 2012. She earned her associate degree from SUNY Empire State College in 2013, and initially came to Rutgers University–Newark with the intent of earning a business degree before deciding that SPAA was a better match for her goal of starting a nonprofit. She enrolled in SPAA in the summer of 2015.
Tucker said that she was nervous about being an older student because she had to learn to be disciplined in terms of studying. Despite her concerns, she quickly adapted with the help of a supportive network in the form of family, friends, and peers.
“I’ve had quite a lot young support to help me because I’m not very skilled with technology so, thankfully, in each class I’ve been in, I’ve had young people who helped me and showed me different things,” Tucker said.
Tucker has successfully completed her classes with the added motivation of reporting her grades to her inquisitive husband and daughters.
She also credits her advisor Sharon Stroye, associate dean for undergraduate programs at SPAA, with helpful guidance and reassurance when she has dealt with academic and personal challenges.
“Mrs. Tucker does not profess to know more than her classmates because she is older. She finds it refreshing to interact and work with younger students and they can learn from each other,” said Stroye. “I have gleaned experience from Mrs. Tucker in my work with other non-traditional students in their late fifties. It is a pleasure having her in the public and nonprofit administration major.”
Tucker is slated to graduate in 2018 at the age of 68, and wants to start a nonprofit that provides support for teen mothers.
“[Teen mothers] need the support of someone caring, nurturing, and encouraging them,” she said. “Having a baby doesn’t end your life…It’s going to be hard, but at least you would have someone there that you can count on for support, because that’s what helped me through when I got pregnant - my family was there for me.”
Tucker said that she has begun networking in pursuit of this initiative, and hopes to take early steps toward establishing the nonprofit shortly after graduating.
Tucker joked that friends and associates at church have called her “crazy” for enrolling in school at her age, but that she will always advocate for continued learning.
“You’re never too old to go back to school, never, it’s just according to what you want out of life,” she said.
Photo: Jade McClain