Non-traditional UT students need more support to succeed

Alyssa Neilson

Walking around campus, a majority of the crowd you see appears to be within the more “traditional” group of college students: young and enrolled in a four-year degree program at the University, having left home for college at 18. However, this sort of college student is part of a diminishing majority. 

I, myself, am one of those traditional students. But I often wonder how students in their 30s and 40s are able to balance their home lives with the workload that studying at UT entails, as many traditional students lacking familial obligations often struggle on the journey to attaining their degrees without these burdens. For evidence of this, look no further than the statistics President William Powers Jr. quoted in his State of the University address in September of 2012:  that year, only 52 percent of UT undergraduates graduated in four years. Many initiatives have been recently promoted on campus to increase this percentage among first-time-in-college undergraduates, including the new registration classification system. But if the University wants to meet metrics for educational success that go beyond graduation rates, it must ensure that it is able to offer the same amount of resources and level of attention to its “non-traditional” student population as to its younger, more traditional college students.

At a majority of American universities, administrators are failing to support the adult-student population. Students who are beyond their 20s, are financially independent and have full-time jobs and children do not get the academic flexibility and support that they need to complete their degrees. 

It’s hard to say how badly this problem affects UT in particular, as the University doesn’t specifically require students to include whether they have children or other employment in the application process. Consequently, there is no specific statistic on non-traditional students currently enrolled at UT, and the definition of non-traditional students itself deserves clarification by the University. 

But, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011 there were 18 million undergraduates enrolled in higher education institutions nationwide. 37 percent of those students worked full-time, 33.2 percent were over the age of 25 and 21.5 percent were over 30. 

Of course, there are ways to get around the typical, hectic daytime schedule of a university student. Nowadays, students who may have different sets of circumstances that lend themselves to evening classes or online courses.

But that doesn’t solve one large logistical problem for non-traditional college students: A majority of University offices are closed by the time that these students are available to visit them. Part-time students are also typically not able to receive the same financial benefits — scholarships and grants — as full-time students, who are typically younger and not financially independent. This is to say nothing about the lack of engagement that online courses, though available at any time of day, offer to students. 

As UT continues to diversify its mission, it would do well to consider which resources it can offer to non-traditional students, and, if those students deserve to be judged by the same standards of success — such as graduating in four years — that “traditional” students are. Whatever the University decides to do, they cannot ignore this demographic for much longer.

Neilson is a public relations junior from Houston.