When Stevie Barnes got pregnant during her first semester at Louisiana Tech in 2008, she lost her full-ride scholarship and her academic life was uprooted.
“It was really stressful because it felt like I made this massive mistake,” Barnes said.
Barnes, who now has three children and is 30 years old, transferred to UT this semester and is an English and rhetoric and writing junior.
Barnes is a part of a small population of nontraditional students who are 23 years old or older, have children, are pregnant or are active or former military. Patricia Moran Micks, assistant dean of first-year experience in the School of Undergraduate Studies, said students 23 or older made up about 3% of the undergraduate population last year.
Nontraditional students returning to school often face different challenges than traditional students. This semester, nontraditional students may face additional challenges with online classes, said Mandy Vachon, an officer for nontraditional student organization New Wave Longhorns and a member of the nontraditional student advisory board.
Barnes has not only started her education later in life, but she also attends school while homeschooling two of her three kids. Barnes said she has ADHD, so focusing on online classes presents its own obstacles.
“I actually have always tried to avoid online school in the past, just because the issues that come along with having ADHD make it really difficult to do anything that requires you to have outside structures,” Barnes said.
Micks, who helps lead the nontraditional student advisory board, said the University recognizes that nontraditional students have different needs from traditional undergraduate students. Micks said the University also works closely with the New Wave Longhorns.
“It is very important to recognize and value our nontraditional students and provide them with resources and peer connections that are meaningful to them,” Micks said in an email.
Barnes said connecting with other students through the New Wave Longhorns’ Facebook page has helped in her transition to being a UT student.
Communications studies senior Vachon said nontraditional students still share some of the problems of learning online with other traditional students.
“In terms of nontraditional students, there are a lot of them that are not only managing their own courses, but they're also managing their children who are going to school online,” Vachon said. “And that's been a big obstacle for many of the student parents.”
Vachon said she does not have kids of her own, but as an extrovert, learning online drains her since she cannot see her classmates in person.
“I am pretty disappointed,” Vachon said. “It's not been as easy. … It's definitely been really hard to stay motivated and engaged. Just as an individual, this has been really, really hard, and I imagine that for those taking care of others, it's even more difficult for them.”