In today's world of the ever-evolving educational scene, the idea of who a college student is has expanded beyond the norm. Joining this scene is non-traditional college students—a diverse group of students defying the conventional norms associated with higher education. These individuals, who usually juggle multiple responsibilities and life experiences, bring a unique perspective to the academic realm.
Non-traditional students come from all walks of life. They have taken a break (usually a long hiatus) from education to pursue work or military service and are now returning to school after several years in the workforce.
They may be parents juggling the demands of family and studies or military veterans transitioning into civilian life. In essence, Non-traditional students represent a wide range of backgrounds, demographics, and life experiences, making their stories and aspirations as diverse as the paths that led them to higher education. Therefore, by better understanding who a non-traditional student is, we can develop strategies to help them succeed in school.
In this article, we will explore the world of non-traditional college students, identify their characteristics and shed light on all the strategies to ensure their success.
Who is a Non-traditional College Student?
Many people classify individuals past a certain age, typically those over 25 or those employed as non-traditional students. However, other factors, including marital status, financial status, and enrollment in part-time programs, could classify one as a non-traditional student.
It's unclear when the term non-traditional student was coined; however, K. Patricia Cross, an American scholar of educational research focusing mainly on adult education, made the word famous. She made the phrase become accepted and appropriate in describing adult students.
The following are characteristics that identify a non-traditional nursing student.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines a non-traditional college student using three criteria:
The US Department of Education adds that a non-traditional college student also includes those with delayed post-secondary education, those commuting more than 10 miles to school, and those who live outside campus.
Meeting the above criteria means being recognized as a non-traditional college student.
The NCES conducted a survey and identified the following:
73% of all undergraduates in 1999–2000 could be considered non-traditional, representing the newly "typical" undergraduate. And even though this was long ago, the number has remained consistent. 72% in 2003–2004, 72% for 2007–2008, and 74% for 2011–2012. The survey data for 2011-2012 reported the highest number of non-traditional students.
However, another study conducted in 2012 by the Centre for Post-secondary and Economic Success (CLASP) indicated that 40% of the current undergraduates are non-traditional students. The number is expected to grow by 11%, leading to 13.3 million non-traditional students in colleges by 2026.
The study also revealed that 38% of non-traditional students are enrolled in two-year college programs; 10% attend public four-year colleges; 8% attend private four-year colleges; 2% attend four-year programs at for-profit institutions; and the final 66% are enrolled in for-profit institutions. Additionally, 37% of non-traditional students in colleges are enrolled part-time. 42% of all students in colleges are of black and Hispanic origin
The same study shows that 51% of undergraduates are considered independent students who are:
Studies have shown that many individuals have considered returning to school to earn bachelor's degrees. However, their biggest hindrance is costs and student debts.
So why are they going back to school? The following are the main reasons why older adults are choosing to go back to school:
Non-traditional college students face more challenges than their counterparts. Evaluating these challenges is essential in finding solutions to help them meet their academic goals. Here is a list of some of the biggest hurdles non-traditional students strive to overcome.
Many traditional students take college education full-time, hence not many responsibilities. However, non-traditional students join schools with multiple roles. Apart from being students, they are employees/ employers, parents, caregivers, and many other competing roles.
Therefore, balancing school careers becomes challenging as they all demand full attention. Finding the time to work, study, care for children, and sleep within 24 hours is almost impossible. For this reason, these students are always conflicted because fulfilling one role means the others will suffer. This conflict creates stress and causes a great deal of guilt among these students.
A typical traditional college student is aged between 18-23 years. Non-traditional students tend to be older than that. Because of the significant age difference, these students sometimes experience much social isolation. They sometimes struggle to connect with younger people, even in class, leading to a lack of belonging.
Additionally, colleges and universities are expected to help students build interpersonal relationships. In contrast, non-traditional students entering schools have already established strong social networks. Consequently, encouraging interaction among these students often feels like an attempt to separate them from already established bonds. In addition, most institutions have taken little to no measures to incorporate non-traditional students socially, making them feel more isolated.
Non-traditional college students often face financial challenges that could deter them from finishing their studies. There are a lot of educational expenses, including textbooks and tuition, that are needed in schools. Acquiring this can be daunting, especially when family expenses, including mortgage, car payments, and other daily expenses, is included.
Non-traditional students often find it hard to set time aside for study. Also, many institutions haven't implemented ways of having classes that fit with the non-traditional students' different roles. Since most courses are designed for traditional students, non-traditional students struggle to fit in. Most of them report feeling frustrated. This, coupled with the pressure to succeed and handle other parts of their lives, can take a mental toll.
NCES report shows that most non-traditional students join school with little or no self-confidence. Most of them don't trust that they can succeed, especially if they began school and dropped out before rejoining again. Those who enter school with high self-confidence become discouraged by self-perceptions of poor performance fueled by feelings of isolation and pressures to succeed from those around them.
All the challenges are daunting and could prevent non-traditional students from attaining their degrees.
According to another NCES report released in 2011, these students are less likely to complete their degrees within six years of joining school than their counterparts.
The research showed that of those enrolled in the academic year 2003-2004, only 20% of the students aged 24-29 years and 16% of those over 30 years graduated within six years of enrolling in an institution of higher learning.
Many non-traditional college students have families of their own to care for, including older and sickly parents or young children. Meeting family obligations while attending school and finishing up assignments becomes extremely challenging, especially if you are taking a tough program like nursing.
Online teaching in colleges and universities is becoming increasingly common. Many non-traditional students returning to school after a significant break find adapting to the new learning method challenging.
Adapting to modern education's digital tools and platforms can be intimidating, especially when they are in the same class as younger students who are extremely good with technology. They may struggle to use online learning tools and library databases or access virtual textbooks and platforms for relevant course materials.
Proficiency with various online learning platforms and other digital education tools is vital in higher education.
The following are strategies that schools and students can take to ensure success.
Schools can do the following to help non-traditional college students succeed.
Institutions can help non-traditional students by recognizing that they are different from other students. Non-traditional students don't enjoy the same flexibility as their counterparts.
Many serve different roles, like parents, employees, caregivers, etc. Because of the multiple responsibilities, institutions must recognize that things like course scheduling and office hours, among other things, must be configured with the adult student in mind. They must offer flexible scheduling options such as evening weekend classes, online courses, and accelerated programs. This allows them to balance all their different roles without feeling the pressure.
Some Institutions have already incorporated technology in their curriculum to make it easier for students to communicate with professors, order transcripts, and pay tuition fees on their own schedule and in the comfort of their homes.
Non-traditional students don't want to stick around in schools more than they should. Most want to earn their degrees and get back into the job market.
Their biggest motivation for returning to school is acquiring new skills and relevant credentials to make them more competitive in the workforce.
Therefore, schools should consider implementing more flexible credentialing measures to allow them to finish their education on time.
Schools must also acknowledge the skills these students have acquired from prior experiences and then develop ways to earn credit for prior learning through assessments or portfolio evaluations. This will speed up their progress and help them finish school faster.
Schools must consider their customer services to offer non-traditional students what they need to make their dreams come true. If an institution doesn't understand these students' needs, then it will be hard to offer them what they really need. Non-traditional students need a more personalized form of teaching than traditional students.
Schools should then provide comprehensive educational support services tailored to non-traditional students' needs, such as academic advising, childcare assistance, and financial aid guidance. Other support services non-traditional students can get include easy access to study groups or tutoring.
Facilitating mentorship programs that connect non-traditional students with other institution members, including the faculty and staff, will go a long way in smoothening their time in school. Encourage networking opportunities to build relationships and support systems within the academic community.
Non-traditional students usually go through a lot trying to balance different roles. Trying to balance all these results in stress, burnout, bankruptcy, death, domestic violence, and a lack of supportive environments, which can hinder efforts to study successfully. For this reason, schools should set up counselling services with all the necessary equipment and professionals and make it easy for non-traditional students to access them.
While life as a non-traditional college student can seem tough, there are various things you can do to succeed.
Your goal shouldn't be only about becoming a successful non-traditional student but also successful as a person and in your career. Start by defining your educational goals clearly by stating what you intend to achieve at the end of your duration in school. Having a clear vision will help you stay focused and motivated throughout. As you follow your goals, don’t ignore other commitments like work and family.
Find schools that actively support non-traditional students because they provide a supportive environment for you to succeed throughout your time in school.
So, do thorough research online and in person from previous students on whether they received the support they needed.
The best institutions offer robust student services, including tutoring and health and wellness support. Others offer employment opportunities for non-traditional students, so you should choose the school if this is what you need.
Being organized is key to succeeding as a non-traditional student. There is no worse feeling than walking into a class and finding out that you didn't carry your books or forgot an assignment that was due.
It is important to ensure you have everything to pull them out when needed. So, whether it's a Google Keep, Planner, Microsoft One Note, calendar app or Google Remind, ensure you have them with you so that you don't miss any important deadlines.
Additionally, staying organized will help you develop strong time management skills necessary to balance the different roles and academic responsibilities. Thus, use organizational tools to prioritize tasks and allocate enough study time.
If your institutions offer support services offered by your college, such as academic advising or counselling, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Reach out to the faculty, classmates, or mentors for guidance and support when needed. Also, consider hiring assignment help services like nursemygrade.com that can help tackle challenging assignments when you are overwhelmed with other commitments.
Similarly, familiarize yourself with the resources offered for non-traditional students, such as childcare facilities, financial aid options, scholarships, and career services. These resources are there for a reason: to help students like you. Use them to navigate the challenges you will encounter that are unique to your situation.
A support system is crucial for your mental health as a non-traditional student. Therefore, whether it's an advisor, faculty, a mentor, or a supportive family member, whatever form it takes, ensure you find the support you need to succeed in school. You will need this support as you try to juggle multiple roles with your education.
Also, prioritize self-care to maintain your physical and mental well-being. Practice meditation, sleep well, eat a balanced diet, and exercise regularly. Taking great care of yourself will help you stay energized, motivated and focused on your education.
Non-traditional students represent an inspiring group of individuals who challenge the notion of what it means to be a college student. But going back to school is not easy. These students face many challenges that put them at risk of not finishing their education. Fortunately, by incorporating the above strategies, non-traditional students can succeed in their higher education.
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