OPINION: Nontraditional students deserve a college experience too

In 2019, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 7.9 percent of college students were adults over the age of 25 yet SIUE fails to deliver the college experience for the nontraditional student.


SIUE considers a nontraditional student as someone who has not continued school following high school, anyone over the age of 24, single parents, those with dependents other than a spouse, work 35 plus hours, part time attendance, financially independent and/or completed a GED.


Other than graduating with a high school diploma I hit all the markers of a nontraditional student. Attending SIUE was important to me because they have one of the best mass communications departments close to home. I was also hoping to find a groove with other students because we would have a shared interest in the field. Instead, I end up having more in common with the instructors.


Younger students have more in common with their peers. This makes being in group projects and connecting in class over the assignments difficult due to the age differences and in the case of single or young parents, other responsibilities.


It isn’t easy being a nontraditional student. Nontraditional students generally do not live on campus, are much older than their classmates and usually have their plates full with work or children or both. SIUE offers many great clubs and activities, but none currently aimed at nontraditional students.


On the GetInvolved website, there are two groups specifically aimed at students with children and nontraditional students, both focused on resources, not much fun. The last event listed on either of them is three years old. While resources are great, we need interaction. We need options for activities that include us.


There should be get-togethers, even virtual ones for nontraditional students and other activities that we can participate in while not living on campus. The activities shouldn’t have to be connected to a certain club, but the school itself. The university should be finding ways to interact with nontraditional students because we are paying for the college experience as well.


There should be activities on campus for young parents to include their children in so that they can share the experience with other students who understand what they are dealing with daily. Counseling and other services are helpful to young parents trying hard to raise children and attend school, but building relationships with other students is just as crucial to keep a person motivated to continue.


I feel that older students specifically are somewhat swept under the rug. When I arrived last January, I gave myself a tour of the campus because I was never offered one. When I went into one office to ask for a map, I was greeted with a nod toward the counter and not much interest in answering any of my other questions and the assumption that I was someone’s parent. 


The only webpage on SIUE’s website for nontraditional students just gives the definition of who qualifies and a phone number at the bottom to call if someone has questions regarding this status. In comparison, SIUC’s website features a landing page for nontraditional students which helps them navigate through the process of applying, testing services, family housing, resources for parent students and more.


Ultimately, we nontraditional students could spearhead groups and clubs but face it, we have our hands full. The school would do well to consider that we are choosing you to educate us but also give us the same rounded college experience that younger students traditionally receive.


If you want to bolster retention rates among nontraditional students, understand we need more than just counseling or resources. We need interaction. We want more than just a pre-commencement party. While it is appreciated, I am sure, it comes at the end of our journey at SIUE. The journey to that point shouldn’t be lonely.


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