Please help me with ideas for how to answer these questions about nontraditional college students. What do you consider to be some of the most significant features of the traditional student experience? In what ways are nontraditional students different from traditional students? What obstacles do nontraditional students potentially encounter when they enter college--both in their own lives (childcare, time) and from educational institutions  (scheduling? financial aid restrictions?) What can be done--by students and/or by the institutions--to help overcome these obstacles? What other ideas do you have about how the college experience could be improved for nontraditional students?

Expert Answers

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Question 1:

I consider socializing to be one of the most important aspects of the traditional college student’s experience.  Socializing is the one thing that traditional students engage in that is both important and not really possible for many non-traditional students.  When I talk about socializing I do mean things like formal parties and nights out and such.  However, I am also referring to the socializing that goes on in dorm hallways and to things like attending sporting events.  These types of socializing allow students to feel like they are part of a community and to make friends and form bonds that make college easier.

Question 2:

Non-traditional students are typically older than traditional students and have more constraints on their time.  They often hold full-time, off-campus jobs.  Many of them have children.  They have often taken significant amounts of time away from school.  Finally, more non-traditional students are non-white and/or of relatively low economic status.

Question 3:

In their own lives, these students face the problems of family and job-related demands.  They may have to arrange for child care.  They may have to spend time doing various things with/for their kids that reduce the time they can spend studying.  They will have jobs that require time and may sometimes conflict with things that need to be done for school.

The major obstacle that these students face from educational institutions is scheduling.  College schedules are typically set up on the assumption that students’ first priority is college and anything else they are doing can be scheduled around their classes.  This is often not the case for non-traditional students.  Another obstacle these students face is the fact that many colleges’ support staffs are oriented to the needs of traditional students.  The support staff (counselors, financial aid people, etc) are attuned to the problems that teenagers face as they leave the relatively sheltered life of home and high school.  This means that they are not very well prepared to provide help for non-traditional students.

Question 4 and 5:

Some students can do things to reduce the problems they face.  They might be able to get help from family members in caring for their children.  They might be able to work out accommodations with their employers.  However, most non-traditional students do not have the ability to do these things and are going to need help from the educational institutions.

The educational institutions are more able to help with these problems.  They can, for example, provide more flexible schedules.  They can offer night classes and classes where each session is longer but there are fewer class sessions.  They might possibly offer day care, though this may be beyond their financial ability.  They could train their support staff to be more aware of and sensitive to the needs of non-traditional students.  They could provide help with study skills so that students who have been away from school for a long time could relearn the skills they need to succeed.

While colleges can do some things to help non-traditional students, these students will always have more trouble on average than more traditional students will.

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