Johnny Simmons didn’t relate to some students in his University of Toledo classes.
The 41-year-old father of five and full-time college student resumed his studies in 2010 to major in entrepreneurship. While younger classmates chatted about parties and other topics, Mr. Simmons wanted to talk about his children and juggling homework and life responsibilities.
A generation gap, family and work commitments, and life experiences are among the differences that separate nontraditional college students from those fresh-from-the-prom newcomers at the next desk.
At UT, two fresh efforts are under way to support the older student population. Mr. Simmons founded the Non-Traditional Student Organization, a group that offers social and emotional support and academic and professional development. And this month, the university officially opened its Office of Adult Student Extended Services, which is intended to be a one-stop place to meet older students' distinctive needs.
“More and more people are seeing there’s a need to cater to the nontraditional student,” Mr. Simmons said.
The College of Adult and Lifelong Learning runs the new extended services office in Rocket Hall near Secor Road and Dorr Street.
CALL, established in 2010, combined UT programs into one new college that expanded and upgraded offerings for nontraditional students, said dean Dennis Lettman. The extended services office is geared to older students throughout the university and strives to be an accessible, convenient resource.
“This is a big, complex, intimidating, bureaucratic organization, and your typical adult student is ... not even [going to] know where to go first, and that’s going to send them away,” Mr. Lettman said.
The office provides prospective and current students with one place to go for help with admissions, financial aid, technology, career planning, information on earning credits for prior learning or work experience, and more. It’s open five days a week with evening hours some nights to accommodate students with jobs and other commitments.
The university has continued to adapt and expand programs and services targeted to older students in response to new needs.
“The whole landscape of higher education is changing ... and a lot of it has to do with the economy,” Mr. Lettman said.
Competition from other universities, innovative teaching approaches, and declining birth rates that are leading to fewer straight-from-high school students entering college are among other changes officials have identified.
“We have more adults that are needing to come back and update their skills for 21st-century jobs,” said Beth Gerasimiak, senior director for the College of Adult and Lifelong Learning.
CALL’s degree programs saw enrollment increase by 18.7 percent for fall, 2012, compared to fall, 2011, officials said. There are 621 students enrolled in CALL.
Officials said it’s difficult to calculate the university’s nontraditional student numbers over the years because of the different ways those students have been categorized.
This fall, the university counted 1,339 new nontraditional students, which includes students who graduated from high school at least a year before enrolling and new transfer students, out of its undergraduate enrollment of 16,876. That’s compared to 1,665 new nontraditional students in fall, 2009, when total undergraduate enrollment was 18,140.
Attempts to target nontraditional students are taking place on other local college campuses, too, as institutions see potential for enrollment growth in an older demographic. Owens Community College has appealed to nontraditional students who want to update skills or advance careers, said Vice President and Provost Renay Scott.
“We have really focused intentionally on retention of students,” she said.
A mentor helps nontraditional students navigate campus, pick classes, and tackle financial aid, she said. She estimated just shy of 30 percent of Owens students are nontraditional.
Bowling Green State University serves its older students through a special department, the Nontraditional and Transfer Student Services. Staff work to understand nontraditional students’ fears and hopes, said Barbara Henry, the services’ assistant vice president.
“It’s a great support network. We also do training and advocacy across campus, to help the rest of the community be aware of the challenges,” she said.
The office offers flexible hours, including evening hours and some weekends, and appointments are conducted online, in person, or over the phone.
Enrollment of new students ages 25 and older at BGSU's main campus has increased, with 185 such students enrolled this fall, up from 115 six years ago.
Ms. Henry credits the increase to the economic downturn that led some unemployed workers back to college. Others enrolled to earn a degree and finish an academic goal or to retrain for a second career.
UT student Linda Jones, 52, of Toledo returned to college to earn a bachelor’s degree. She started working in a nursing home after high school and currently is a hospice aide. She wants to increase her qualifications and called the university’s efforts to better serve nontraditional students through the new office “an excellent idea.”
“Even though we have a lot of work experience and a lot of life experience, when you get on a campus that size, you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, where do I have to go?’” she said.
Mr. Simmons hopes his UT student organization also can connect and support nontraditional students who share similar backgrounds and challenges.
“We’re in this together,” he said.
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