The New “Normal” in Higher Education

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Although summer is still in full swing, many of us are already dreaming of fall and what it brings – cooler temperatures, football, changing leaves, and of course, back-to-school.  If you picture new high school graduates packing their cars full of their belongings to take to college though, you may need to adjust your thinking. According to research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), of the 17 million reported college students in the US, only 15% fit the profile of 18-22 years old living on campus.

agedemThe number of non-traditional college students has skyrocketed since the 1970s, creating a change in atmosphere and attitudes on college campuses.  Even though there is no exact definition, “non-traditional students” are normally categorized by one or more of the following characteristics:

1. Age - Historically, students who are 24 or older are considered non-traditional, but recent studies have included students who do not start college in the same year they graduate from high school or with a GED/TASC.

2. Credit Hours – Students who only attend college part-time (12 credit hours or less) fall under the non-traditional heading.  This group also incorporates students who pursue their degrees online, a subgroup that continues to grow year after year.

3. Financial Status – Non-traditional students usually file independently for financial aid, but they could very well have some dependents of their own.  The number of parents heading back to school has increased greatly with flexible scheduling and online coursework.

So, now that we have determined who qualifies as a non-traditional student, let’s explore the benefits of being a part of the new “normal” and how Mountwest can help you reach your goals.

Life Experience – One of the greatest assets that non-traditional students possess is experience.  Whether you spent time traveling the world, raising children or working, you’ve had the unique opportunity of gaining skills and confidence that only comes with age.  By having been there and done that, you can provide insight and advice to classmates they may not receive otherwise.  Another great way to utilize your talents is by getting involved on campus.  With a variety of student organizations and paid student work positions available at Mountwest, non-traditional students can share their knowledge, make friends, and help their school at the same time.

Career Preparation - Many of the non-traditional students who decide to attend college are looking to change careers or obtain additional skills in their current field of work.  The number of jobs needing an associate degree are set to steadily increase by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which paints a favorable outlook for current and future job seekers. Non-traditional students can combine previously-acquired abilities with a new certificate or degree to get a step up on the competition.  Mountwest’s Career Services offers résumé building, interview tips, and career assessments to provide non-traditional students with one-on-one guidance to start them on a successful path to professional success.

Additional Support – The most common hesitation for non-traditional students stems from the fear of being back in the classroom.  Depending on the length of time since you’ve been in school, it may feel overwhelming technologically, academically or even socially.  In fact, many colleges, Mountwest included, deliver a variety of support services to help students adjust to college life.  Tutoring services, small class sizes, and a high-tech resource library are a few of the advantages non-traditional students at Mountwest can enjoy.  Additionally, a network of supportive faculty, staff, and peer coaches will assist you every step of the way, providing a community environment for you to learn and grow within.

So as summer draws to a close and gives way to autumn, millions of students are preparing to head to college and embark on a new journey.  Those students are not only recent high school graduates, but adults who are in various stages in their careers and lives looking to dream bigger and climb higher. If you’re interested in joining the ranks of the new “normal”, Mountwest is currently enrolling for the fall semester, and we would love to see you on campus.

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