Non-traditional students: No longer unaccounted for

Shannell Carroll, non-traditional then-senior in social sciences, plays with her 19-month-old son Bryson at Manhattan City Park on Jan. 28, 2016. (Archive photo by Miranda Snyder | Collegian Media Group)

Recent studies on the composition of the Kansas State student body show that non-traditional students make up 35 percent of the student population.

The decision to return to school for a graduate degree, or to complete a bachelor’s degree as an adult can be important to more than just the student. For students such as Jana Thomas, graduate student in strategic communications, two semesters away from completing her master’s program, it’s a family decision.

“It was something I had to negotiate with my partner,” Thomas said. “I left my full-time job and came back to go to school. I still have my business, and I do some consulting on the side.”

Thomas received her bachelor’s of science in cultural anthropology, marketing and business from K-State in 2005, but while she was completing her bachelor’s programs, she became a parent and used the Child Development Center on campus.

During the 10 years Thomas spent in the workforce, she added two more boys to her family and constructed her business, Strictly Social Media. She also worked for a digital media company.

“Back then, we didn’t really have a lot of outside university support,” Thomas said.

According to the criteria used by the Registrar’s Office, the Office of Admissions and Office of Financial Aid, the term “non-traditional student” refers to students who identify as veterans, parents, adults who have been out of school for more than three years, more than 25 years of age, have taken time away from their program of studies or a combination of each requirement.

Wendi Stark, a 1992 K-State graduate, returned to school to complete her master’s in English in 2014. She takes one class per semester to work toward her program while accommodating her professional workload. Her family has been her support system, but she also has support from the professors in the English department, Stark said.

At K-State more than 12 to 14 percent of the non-traditional student population is comprised of military-affiliated students. These students are veterans, military spouses or Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets.

However, not all of the non-traditional students on campus are eligible for the same privileges, such as those provided by the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI bills, and other scholarships and financial aid available to military students. This ineligibility has led to a separation of non-traditional and veteran student services.

Deanne Woodard, assistant dean of Student Life and director of Non-Traditional and Veteran Student Services, said efforts are being made to accommodate non-military-affiliated, non-traditional students.

Woodard specifically advises non-traditional students and recognized a need to help them find community resources and receive the help they need that can be provided by the university. This is part of an effort put in action by the university to track and help non-traditional students complete their programs of study.

Woodard also said many non-traditional students have indicated there aren’t enough opportunities providing social interaction. She said non-traditional students are eligible for all of the same programs and services offered to traditional students, but there is a need for a different approach geared toward adult learners.

In her experience working in community colleges and universities, Woodard said she noticed the proportion of adult learners to traditional students is different between the two types of institutions. She noted that more than 70 percent of students in community colleges are adult learners, while roughly that percentage of students meet the criteria for traditional students at four-year institutions.