Nontraditional students bring diversity to campus

A Look Ahead Part 2 of 3:

The University is looking to increase its nontraditional student population.

There are two equally important reasons the University wants more non-traditional students, said Sheri Wells-Jensen, Faculty Senate chair.

One reason is that the number of high school students is expected to decline over the next few years, so enrollment from other populations must increase to maintain a steady total enrollment.

“Some of the opportunities for growth rest in the nontraditional and adult population,” said Cecilia Castellano, interim director of Admissions.

The other reason is that non-traditional students enrich the learning environment, Wells-Jensen said.

“I personally love a classroom that has all kinds of different people in it,” Wells-Jensen said.

Non-traditional students add more voices and experiences to the classroom, said Barbara Henry, assistant vice president for Non-Traditional and Transfer Student Services.

“Their presence adds “depth, richness and diversity,” Henry said.

The University currently has about 1,000 non-traditional undergraduate students, according to the federal definition that counts anyone who is 25 or older as non-traditional.

Non-Traditional and Transfer Student Services uses a lower age requirement for their definition, Henry said. Any student whose “peer group” – the students they graduated from high school with – is expected to have graduated from college is considered non-traditional.

In other words, students in their fifth or more year of college are considered non-traditional at the University.

Students may also be considered non-traditional if they are a parent, if they are raising their siblings or if they are taking care of their own parent. Statistics aren’t kept on how many students are doing those things, so the number of non-traditional students by the University’s definition is unavailable.

Veterans are also considered non-traditional regardless of age.

Wells-Jensen said a strict binary classification of traditional and non-traditional students is not always useful. A student may be 20 years old [a traditional age] and a parent [a non-traditional family status], for example.

Non-Traditional and Transfer Student Services is offering three new scholarships to help non-traditional students. Two of them are for “readmits” – students who previously attended the University and will be coming back to finish their degree.

The University’s interest in expanding online programs also benefits adult students, Castellano said.

The responsibilities of work and family often make it difficult to fit classes in their schedules, Henry said.

Recruiting non-traditional students requires “awakening [them] to the possibility” of going to college, Wells-Jensen said.

High school students are frequently asked about their plans, she said, but the subject of going to college doesn’t naturally come up so often for other populations.

Non-Traditional and Transfer Student Services representatives go to career and education fairs and also speak to employees whose employers may help pay for their education, Henry said.

The office also “builds on other recruiting activities” to reach potential non-traditional students, Henry said. Representatives are at Preview Day to reach parents of high school students, for example.

If someone is older, “the opportunity to change and grow and learn is not gone,” Wells-Jensen said.

“There’s never an ‘I didn’t go to college’… because you still could go,” Wells-Jensen said.