Most campuses have had programs for non-traditional students of one sort or another, but with an emphasis on driving enrollment, your college or university is probably exploring ways to better meet non-traditional student needs. But who are these students, and what, exactly, do they want from higher education?
Who are non-traditional students?
Traditional students are those who matriculate from high school directly to higher ed, either a two-year or four-year college or university program.
In contrast, non-traditional students are identified as one of the following:
- 25+ years old
- First-generation students
- Re-entry students who have not attended college consistently
- Full-time employees
- Online or distance learning students
- GED or other nonstandard students
In fact, 40% of the current undergraduate population falls into the non-traditional category. Even so, these students have very different demographics, both from traditional students and each other—but they have one commonality: they have unique challenges to finding and staying on the path to academic success.
Researchers found that almost twice as many non-traditional students are at risk, meaning that they struggle with feeling connected to school, have low confidence in their academic abilities, or have negative feelings about school altogether. If traditional academia is to attract and serve non-traditional students, they need to understand this demographic and figure out ways to remove barriers to success.
What do non-traditional students want?
Colleges that have built successful Continuing Education programs have tailored their services to the needs of these students. Examples include:
These students might work fulltime, so they will be accessing your classes and services at times other than 8-to-5. Expand evening courses, your online distance learning options, and allow students to take classes at their own pace so they can work when they have dedicated time such as weekends or late nights.
Let’s face it: Education is not cheap, and because today’s consumers are accustomed to services designed to meet their needs, so, too, do your non-traditional students expect good service. This means communication—by admissions, financial aid, and professors. When it comes to coursework, some professors have no idea the struggles facing non-traditional learners, so they must be educated and then encouraged to establish and maintain rapport with students throughout the term.
Affordable on-campus childcare, online tutoring, and associations that cater to non-traditional student needs are a few of the ways your campus can support these students as they meet the challenges of their academic workload.
Specific Outcomes and Expectations
Non-traditional students want to know how long a class or program will take, how much it costs, and how the curriculum fits into achieving their long-term goals.
Collaboration and Campus Connections
Non-traditional students need to feel connected to campus even if they don’t spend a lot of time there. Furthermore, many of these students have had a negative experience in the past that colors their perception. Colleges and universities must work hard to educate non-traditional students about offerings on campus and implement services like mentoring and supplemental instruction to keep them engaged.
I’ve got a degree or certificate—now what? If non-traditional students buy into your programs, they are also going to expect your college or university to provide appropriate counseling services to help them make use of their education. This goes beyond typical job fairs to services like match programs with alumni and graduate hire pipelines with major companies.
Alternatives to Traditional Education
Over the next 20 years, alternative learning will grow and students who don’t want to go to college can find credentialed offerings that
still equip them with the skills needed to find a good job. How colleges and universities
pivot from traditional education offerings will be key to how they meet the needs
of non-traditional students.
Higher ed is in transition and your college or university has an opportunity to capitalize on the changes ahead by strategizing about how to best meet non-traditional students’ needs sooner than later. Is your school ready to take on this challenge? Non-traditional students aren’t going to wait around to find out.
To learn more, download our white paper 7 Ways to Attract and Serve New Audiences: Restructuring Higher Ed to Serve Learners for a Lifetime.