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How Non-Traditional Students Are Changing Education

May 4, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

The “traditional” college student is easy to define: just transitioning from teen to adult, these students graduate from high school, live at college and attend classes full-time, and graduate with a degree four years later.

The “nontraditional” student, however, resists definition. Nontraditional students are full-time employees and full-time parents; military personnel and veterans; stay-at-home moms and home-schooled students. They go to school part-time and full-time, online and in the classroom. The only quality they share is that they’re typically older than the “traditional” student—most U.S. census data surveys classify them as 25 and older—but traditional-aged students who are also parents or full-time workers, as well as home-schoolers going to college online, may question this definition.

In 2005, U.S. census data estimated there were approximately 12 million nontraditional students enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities. Here’s how nontraditional students are changing education.

They’re demanding—and getting—flexibility

Nontraditional students need flexible schedules. They need to go to school at night, take classes without leaving home, and juggle full-time courseloads in addition to full-time workloads. Over a quarter of all colleges and universities—and about 40% of two-year schools—offer evening and weekend classes and part-time options that suit the lives of adult learners.

They’re getting schools to accommodate their lives

But scheduling isn’t the only issue nontraditional students deal with. Parents who study can bring children to school; approximately 59% of U.S. colleges and universities offer on-site day care. Schools are increasingly willing to offer life experience credit—pending a thorough application process, of course—and allow students to transfer credits. In addition, some traditional and online schools specialize in helping certain kinds of adult learners—such as working professionals or military personnel.

They’re driving an expansion in online degree programs

Adult learners love online degree programs because of their flexibility. With no set class times and “classrooms” wherever students have computers and Internet access, adult learners can more easily fit studies around their work and family responsibilities. Once looked on as questionable, today’s online education industry has grown up—with many fully-online institutions holding regional accreditation and numerous traditional colleges offering fully or partially online degree programs. Life gets busy and with being able to earn a degree online you can accomplish your goals on your own time.  Master of Business Administration is one of the many degrees that can be obtained while still working at your current position such as the program here.

They’re increasing employer acceptance of online degrees

Millions of students go to school online—and graduate into the workforce. As applicants with online degrees become more common—and translate their education into success on the job—employer acceptance of online degrees is growing. Multiple studies have been conducted on employer acceptance of online degrees, including the 2005 Eduventures Continuing Education and Professional Development Report. The survey questioned the opinions of 505 employers, 62% of which had an entirely favorable view of online degrees.

They’re showing diversity comes in many forms

Many college administrators set a high degree of importance on maintaining a diverse student base. Diversity in race and socio-economic position are both important—but they’re not the only ways colleges can encourage diversity. Nontraditional students bring a variety of perspectives to college classrooms—the perspectives of military personnel, full-time employees, parents, and more. Nontraditional students aren’t just increasing the diversity of college campuses—they’re broadening our concept of diversity in general.

Nontraditional students are changing education for the better. They’re an ambitious group of learners who demand rigorous, career-relevant courses and degree programs. They’re more likely to question the relevance of coursework and other requirements, because they’re often highly aware of what their degrees are costing them—in terms of both time and money.

They bring a wide variety of perspectives to every classroom, and their experiences enrich the educational experiences of traditional students. And they demand—and increasingly get—flexibility and accommodation from colleges, making it much more possible for anyone to return to college after time spent on the job or taking care of family. Nontraditional students are making education more challenging, more rewarding—and quite possibly more humane and accepting as well.



Tracie Over a year ago

I really like this article. I have been inconsistant with college for 10 years. I would like to email the author with a few questions but it is not linking me to her email.

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