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‘What do I do?’ Nontraditional students in the dark at USU

September 23rd, 2012 Posted in Opinion

By Kelsie Davis

LOGAN—Tammy Neilson didn’t realize it would be this tough to come back to school.

“I can’t retain as much information as I used to, and the time constraints are sometimes overwhelming,” said the 42-year-old single mother of two teenage girls, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Utah State University. “Working full time, taking care of my kids and going to school—sometimes it’s all too much.”

There’s an office on campus to help nontraditional students like Neilson. But until this week, she’d never heard of it.

“That would have been nice to know when I started two years ago,” she said. “What do they even do?”

That’s unclear.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 75 percent of college students are considered “nontraditional,” meaning they’ve entered postsecondary education more than a year after high school, are not full-time students, work full-time, have children or do not have a high school diploma.

Their numbers are up from 58 percent in 1990. The center predicts enrollment of nontraditional students will rise by as much as 21 percent more by 2020.

With a new kind of student majority on national campuses comes the need for new resource programs. According to “Pathways to Success: Integrating Learning with Life and Work to Increase National College Completion,” a report of the U.S. Department of Education released this year, nontraditional students face more barriers than ever before. Situational barriers, such as lack of resources; institutional barriers, like course requirements and lack of practicality; and dispositional barriers, such as student’s negative perceptions about their learning abilities—are not getting adequate attention from some universities, the report says..

The USU Nontraditional Student Center, a subdivision of the university’s Access and Diversity Center, was founded to meet those needs. But USU officials don’t even have a handle on how many students they’re supposed to be serving.

“Maybe 5 percent. Probably 30 percent,” said Lori Wood, a member of the Nontraditional Student Association Board, as she attempted to estimate how many USU students are nontraditional. According to Wood, the board and center’s responsibility is to “create awareness of nontraditional students and connect them with resources.”

This fall, USU’s on-campus student population is 16,997, the largest enrollment at the Logan campus ever. If the national estimate of 75 percent of students were applied, the number of nontraditional students on the Logan campus would be 12,748. Five percent would be 850 nontraditional students, and 30 percent would mean 5,099 nontraditional students like Tammy Nielson trying to navigate USU.

The only example of services for nontraditional students that Woods could provide at USU was a list of daycare providers. And as of Friday, some of the programs listed on the center’s website were outdated by half a year. The only current programs on the site were “nontraditional SOAR” and “nontraditional Connections,” offshoots of orientation programs for traditional incoming freshmen.

The center’s program coordinator, Rachel Brighton, didn’t name any resources for nontraditional students either, and said it was against division policy to discuss any facts about USU’s nontraditional students.

The USU admissions office has a quick reference guide of “fun facts” and statistics about USU, but not a single word or figure about nontraditional students.

“Who should I ask?” an administrative assistant at the admissions office asked a co-worker as she searched for information about nontraditional students. Her search turned up empty.

So did Kent Harris’s attempts to recall ever having heard anything about the center.

“I’ve heard of Student Support Services,” said Kent Harris, a 46-year-old student and campus police officer. “Nontraditional Student Center? No.”


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