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Nontrad Student Success Is Not Difficult At All! You Just Need A Great Informal Support Network!

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Dr. Viar is the President of the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education and provides his opinion on what is needed for nontraditional students to achieve success in their degree programs. He is also a college educator and shares his own experiences as a nontrad student, while providing informative and innovative ways to help others guide their nontraditional students to reach educational success.

The non-traditional learner tends to be more reluctant to seek help, but when it is sought their needs are likely not met. Too many times I have heard and have experienced that the assistance provided to nontrad students is only available during limited hours, and is not conducive to most working students. When help is provided, it is done so in more of a remedial atmosphere that is demotivational or non-productive. No attempt is made to make a genuinely, meaningful connection with the student in order to identify their needs and provide a relevant helping hand. To the nontraditional student who already has apprehensions about returning to school and a lack of confidence, just one bad experience with college admissions is all that's needed to change their mind. However, there are times, if the student is determined and apt to prove something (if only to themselves), that words act as motivators and convince the student that they would be successful and no one was going to tell them otherwise, such as it was in my experiences, when I was told that I would never make it because I had a wife, kids, and other commitments. It was in this moment that my informal support network became the most important contributor to my success.


Level The Playing Field For Nontraditional Students

The non-traditional learner is either starting later than their younger counterparts or returning years after most others have already completed their degree programs. Thus, creating even more of a sense of urgency for the non-traditional learner to complete their degree. The time for learning theories and mulling over topics that have long since been exhausted is not on their agenda. Most have worked through the intricacies of what to do about when they would attend, what adjustments will be needed at home, and how they will handle the costs to return to college. Now, they require knowledge and skills that will help them to facilitate their learning and ultimately lead them back to their desired professional position. This can assume the models of problem-based learning, cognitive learning theory and a host of others.

It is imperative to realize that opportunities do not translate into automatic success or grant added or extra resources or time to the non-traditional learner. The non-traditional learner or what I call the new-traditional learner, is not seeking an easier path versus their younger counterparts, rather, just a level playing field with the same opportunities to succeed. An adult iteration of the flipped classroom model could be considered. The non-traditional learner brings a host of knowledge and lived experiences to the online classroom and traditional classroom settings, perhaps tapping into this knowledge base could benefit all the learners and, on some level, the faculty as well.

With this Albert Einstein quote as a foundation, isn’t it time for more than the non-traditional students to learn, but also the administration and faculty to learn and grow from the growing demographic on their campuses before it’s too late? The younger student demographic is shrinking based upon birth rates and demographic shifts. Hence, with estimates ranging from between eighteen to twenty colleges projected to close annually for the coming years, shouldn’t attention be given to this demographic who wants and needs this educational opportunity?

Are you a nontraditional student in need of support, an educator, or administrator looking for ways to help your nontrads to successfully complete their degree programs? Check out the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE) for resources and more!

Please feel free to leave your comments or any questions you might have.

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