What’s life like on a college campus? Just a few short years ago, that question might have prompted tales of prestigious institutions with ivy-clad walls, towering libraries, and 18-to-22-year-old students tossing Frisbee outside their dorms.
It’s a lovely image, but it couldn’t be further from reality.
Today’s undergrads balance coursework with full-time jobs, mortgages, children, and countless outside obligations. The classroom dynamic has shifted in favor of what were once considered “nontraditional” students—working adults, parents, veterans, retirees, immigrants, and disabled students. As this new reality sets in, many schools are scrambling to tailor their offerings accordingly.
No more “junior” college
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2010-2011 approximately 45 percent of undergraduate students were enrolled at two-year public colleges, not private universities, prompting a shift in how society views such programs. No longer a last resort for students who lack the grades or money to get into four-year schools; on the contrary, two-year programs now deliver streamlined curricula in high-tech, in-demand fields—often in half the time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, a growing number of grads choose to parlay two-year degrees into bachelor’s-bearing programs later, further sealing two-year schools’ reputations as reliable—and affordable—stepping stones.
A new level of support
In an uncertain economy, where, according to U.S. Department of Education data approximately 40 percent of college students are over the age of 25, the race to the workforce has never been more urgent. In order to attract and retain busy, career-minded students, colleges must promote optimal outcomes from day one.
But career counseling isn’t the only service colleges are working to ramp up. Myriad responsibilities outside the classroom put students at greater risk of dropping out, so advocating for “nontrads,” as they’re sometimes called, involves providing:
• Start-to-finish guidance in the admissions process
• Upfront information on all eligible scholarships and grants
• Flexibility—in everything from class formatting to advising
• Strategic degree coaching to trim unnecessary commitments
• Access to internships and other work-related credit
• Guided tours of libraries, technology labs, and other resources
• ESL and family considerations for first-generation students
• Free mental and physical health services