In the past, most colleges have focused their efforts on the recruitment and retention of traditional college students. By traditional, I am referring to full-time undergraduate students who enroll in college directly after graduating from high school. As the landscape of higher education changes, we need to find ways to change our focus to a growing population of nontraditional college students.
Nontraditional students are defined by the National Center for Education Statistics as “meeting one of seven characteristics:
- delayed enrollment into postsecondary education
- attends college part-time
- works full time
- is financially independent for financial aid purposes
- has dependents other than a spouse
- is a single parent
- does not have a high school diploma.
I believe that distance learning, online learning, and graduate students can also often be grouped in this category. Students who do not follow the traditional college path frequently miss out on opportunities for personal and academic growth that are provided through co-curricular involvement and experience outside of the classroom. Trying to find ways to engage the students can be challenging as it requires often changing the ways our offices operate.
If you are trying to make your office more friendly to nontraditional students, here are a few things to think about:
- Office hours: What time are nontraditional students typically on campus? Is your office open during that time?
- Online presence: Are there ways to engage online or distance learners through social media or online leadership activities?
- Student organizations: Are their organizations on your campus to meet the needs of nontraditional students? If there aren’t any groups, what can you do to help create these organizations or to help support these students?
- Outreach: How do you make your office’s services known to the student population who may not normally use them? What is the message that you want these students to know about your office?
- Programming: Are programs accessible to a wide variety of students? Do you always plan programs for weekends when students with jobs may not be able to attend? Do you have any family friendly events at large scale programs?
It is vital that we rethink how we have run our offices to make them accessible to a growing population of nontraditional students. This may mean creating new programs and making new traditions and cutting some of the old activities. One great resource for those at four year institutions are our colleagues at community colleges. Professionals at two year schools frequently work with a nonresidential and nontraditional populations, and have many tools and ideas to engage students who are not on campus 24/7.
Taking the time to engage nontraditional students will create a strong campus community and greater affinity towards the university by these populations. Creating a greater affinity to the university will also help these populations to want to give back to your institution and will create a more engaged alumni group, which will help your college or university in the future.
What suggestions do you have for making your office more open to nontraditional students? What have you done already to reach out to these populations?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Chris Conzen on Community Colleges