Published on 2013/04/30

Exploring the Integration of Non-Traditional Students on Campus

AUDIO | Exploring the Integration of Non-Traditional Students on Campus
It can be difficult for non-traditional, adult students to feel like they are a part of the campus community, but there are steps colleges and universities can take to better integrate their adult learners.

The following interview is with Allison De La Torre, an adult student at UC Santa Barbara. De La Torre recently discussed some of the challenges adult students have when it comes to ‘fitting in’ at a traditional campus where the majority of students are between 18 and 22 years old. In this interview, De La Torre discusses some of the most significant problems with the average brick-and-mortar campus, and shares her thoughts on ways colleges and universities could better integrate and better serve non-traditional students.

1. Why did you decide to enroll at a higher education institution as an adult?

Well, for me personally, from high school, I had a long and arduous journey through community college then transferred to the UC System. I fought tooth and nail to get here, really. And it’s because I always knew that I wanted to be a professional helper of sorts, working with people.

2. Did you work before you wound up in the UC System or have you come through straight from the community colleges?

Yes, I pretty much was always working and taking classes the whole time and supporting myself as an independent. So it was a long process and continuous.

3. What is the most significant challenge you have faced as an adult student enrolled at an institution that mainly serves traditional-age students?

The most significant difficulty, I’d say — and am still challenged with — is finding a sense of community on this campus, University of California at Santa Barbara. …

There is a percentage of less than one in regards to non-traditional students. Especially as a transfer student, coming into a new population at a university of such magnitude, it is very difficult to feel integrated into the mainstream student community during the whole transition.

We are here for a relatively short amount of time but no one really takes that initiative when we first arrive, especially to take this specific group of students out and see their new environment and do it together.

4. As an adult, do you think you play a different role on campus and in the classroom than the average student?

Yes, I think I do, because I am a more mature student. As we learn, we grow, and as we grow, we learn. Thus, as an adult, I have a different world view, a different ideology and, for the most part, different value systems as I’ve had the time to develop my ideas and passions and come to a real understanding of what I value, what is really important to me and what I stand for. Where younger students may highly value going to night clubs in their spare time, me, I value being able to get some quiet time to reflect on what I’ve learned, what I’ve read and to construct an argument around it. I can field questions from the professor and we have a more open dialogue.

I help create that learning environment in the classes that I attend because I’ve done the reading, I understand the reading and I get a chance to express my opinion and share it with the rest of the class. And I ask those questions others may be afraid to ask. So, as an adult student, I do feel a stronger sense of leadership initiative through collaboration.

5. What could the university do to better integrate adult students into the fabric of the campus?

To integrate more non-traditional students and transition more non-traditional students in the community, there could be more involvement as far as fielding input from non-traditional students before we arrive at UCSB. A survey asking our opinions on how the university could better serve our needs; first hand, authentic primary source stats from the non-traditional students.

What do we need in place to help our transition into the community?

Some people will answer childcare. Some may say veteran services. Apartment living, a community of non-traditional students on campus at one central location or in close proximity, for folks to create a sense of community amongst themselves. There could be two to three floors, or a pod, of non-traditional students who will get that sense of community while having access to the larger community and can then engage and interact with the younger students in increments, because it’s hard to start from community college and come to such a large-scale public university.

And, you have 18 and 19-year-olds all around you and in the majority. It can sometimes be like a little brother or sister maybe chit-chatting about video games or Twitter. Well, for the most part, I don’t do that. I like my family time, private time and non-traditional students tend to be always juggling many things; work, social life, academic, children, spiritual life.

So, information can be gathered to find out what programs and infrastructure can be provided to support non-traditional students. I believe they should be integrated into the mainstream student community here and, in order for that to occur, they must feel that welcoming sense of community amongst themselves and be able to transition from it.

6. Is there anything you’d like to add about creating a better sense of community at an elite institution to try to integrate adult students more into the path of the campus, or any sort of changes that you’d really like to see, nationwide, to support adult students better?

I feel that I covered some main aspects about it as far as really getting it straight from the non-traditional students, what they need. I actually am working on starting a specific organization down here on campus for non-traditional students and transfer students to start and to create that sense of community.

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Readers Comments

Jennifer McMenemy 2013/04/30 at 9:01 am

While some institutions have separate classes for their adult students, the ones at Ms. De La Torre’s university seem to be made up of both adult and traditional-age students. I think one of the benefits of this arrangement is, like she says, that the older students can take on leadership or mentoring roles in the classroom. To have students go in with different expectations, priorities and levels of preparedness also makes for an interesting learning environment.

Rob Young 2013/04/30 at 3:21 pm

Allison makes it sound so simple when she says that institutions should survey their adult student population to ask what their top priorities for services are. Yet I’m sure many institutions haven’t done this. Most institutions have limited resources to devote to adult student services, and I think they would be better served by asking actual adult learners what they would like to get out of their postsecondary experience so that those resources are put to good use.

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