Non-Traditional Learners in Higher Education
College is a life changing decision. For many traditional students, it may be their first chance to be away from home, for others it is simply a rite of passage. For the non-traditional student these factors rarely affect their decision to return to the educational environment. The non-traditional student usually makes the decision to pursue higher education for reasons including fulfilling personal goals, a change of career, or to gain advancement in their current career. This paper will attempt to define non-traditional learners, explain some of the challenges facing them, and discuss graduation numbers of non-traditional students against their traditional counterparts.
There is no exact definition of a non-traditional learner, although there are some generally agreed upon characteristics that define many non-traditional learners. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (1997), a non-traditional student possesses least one of the following characteristics;
▪ Delays enrollment (does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year he/she graduated high school)
▪ Attends part-time for at least part of the year
▪ Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid
▪ Has dependants other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others)
▪ Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependants)
▪ Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school)
Non-traditional learners are further categorized as either minimally, moderately, or highly non-traditional. Students classified as minimally non-traditional are students that only possess one non-traditional characteristic, with the most common characteristic being part-time enrollment (36%). A moderately non-traditional student is a student that...