When most people think of college students, they envision youthful faces fresh out of high school dedicated all week to classes and studies, while mindlessly partying away weekends. Of course popular culture does little to erase this stereotype when continually portraying college students as irresponsible procrastinators caring more for invitations to the next frat party than the next exam. Today, the typical college student is not ‘that’ student.
Yes, there are many college students who do love a good party but most are more responsible than the media portrays. Most spend their whole week AND weekend with their heads in their books hoping to earn good grades. Many work jobs in addition to their studies hoping to gain experience or to graduate without debt. Most are hoping to eventually find that dream career where they can make a difference in their world, not just a paycheck. The average college student is no longer defined by age, but by purpose.
Traditionally, college students enrolled immediately after high school, attended class full time, did not work, lived on campus, were between the ages of 18 and 21 and graduated within a 4 year time period. Nontraditional students were those who did not follow this typical pattern and were among the minority most specifically when it came to age.
Shannon Kennedy, president of the Washburn Non-Traditional Student Organization, said Washburn considers the non-traditional student as one over the age of 24 and has discussed changing that to 21.
The National Center for Education Statistics does not emphasize age in their definition although statistically most non-traditional students are in fact age 25 or older. They define nontraditional students as meeting one of these seven characteristics: delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, attends college part-time, works full time, is financially independent for financial aid purposes, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma.
“Typically, at Washburn, you are going to find a majority of students fit into this description in some form,” said Kennedy.
Non-traditional students make up about 35% of the student body at Washburn according to the last report Kennedy read. And that was just going by the university’s definition of non-traditional age.
“If you use the national definition, that number is MUCH higher,” Kennedy said.
As more non-traditional students are enrolling, colleges nationwide are finding they must take different approaches to ensure all students are getting the college education and experience they are paying for. All students want to feel like they belong to their campus.
According to Kennedy, there are not as many options for non-traditional students to do on campus at Washburn because most activities are during the day or during weeknights. Because many non-trads have children, they often cannot return to campus to do activities. However, that does not have to keep these students from getting involved.
“I know that many of the groups that bring activities to campus (such as CAB and WGSA) are always trying to find ways to increase the spectrum of activities so that non-trads can get involved.” Kennedy said.
Kennedy admits it has been easier for her without the obligations of children, but she still has had to work through challenges, which come with being a non-traditional student. What helped her most was getting involved.
“If you get involved, get a job on campus, join a club, go to activities, you are on campus and that is sometimes the hardest part of going back to school.” Kennedy said. “Instead of being, what we call a 3C (Car, Class, Car) student, stay on campus and interact with people. It means you’ll connect with people.”
One of the best ways for non-traditional students to connect at first is to join the Washburn Non-traditional Student Organization. The group started when Kennedy, who had been out of a classroom environment for almost 20 years, noticed a lack of support for non-traditional students. She had no help when first enrolling, was expected to just know what to do, was given no tours, and had to do a lot of ‘asking.’
“I had a class my first semester where another non-traditional student was half way through the semester and didn’t know there was a cafeteria on campus.” Kennedy said. “This really bothered me because I knew that the support for traditional students was there.”
Now for the last several semesters Kennedy and her group have held informational meetings that bring campus departments, such as financial aid, career service Student Life and the library, to help non-traditional students with questions and concerns.
Adam Siemieniewski, senior Elementary Education major, said the Non-traditional student organization has helped him feel more connected. The biggest trial he faced was how to get started again and to get back into the rhythm of school.
“I did it all by myself, and if I had someone to help and support me that would have been a little easier,” Siemieniewski said. “As soon as I heard about the Non-Traditional group here at Washburn, I knew I wanted to join. Maybe I could help someone else who is in the same shoes I was.”
Siemieniewski encourages other non-traditional students to join the meetings which are currently held every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Mabee 105. Members are welcome to bring their children if needed; coloring books are provided. The next meeting will be held on February 18.
Sieminewski is now more confident about his decision to return to Washburn.
“I interact with the other students just like the first time I came to Washburn,” he said. “It is a very warm campus and I am proud to call myself an Ichabod!”
Despite the challenges of juggling school, work, and family, being a non-traditional student does have its advantages such as maturity, emotional stability and life experience. Many non-traditional students were in fact once ‘those’ stereotypical college student partying away precious studying time and their parents hard-earned college funds. But this time they return with a purpose, valuing education and a degree.
“I think the biggest advantage that non-traditional students have that is not recognized much is that we WANT to be here and we WANT to learn and we WANT to be in class.” Kennedy said.
And it is this ‘want-to’ attitude, which is helping the growing number of non-traditional students become one of the newest majorities on campuses today.
For more information about non-traditional student support at Washburn email Shannon Kennedy at [email protected]