College campuses are thought of as being full of young adults fresh out of highschool, but approximately 28 percent of students at Tyler Junior College are age 25 or older.
“Most of my classmates are older,” said Dee Thompson, TJC student.
Thompson is a 52- year- old mother of four, and this is her first semester at TJC. She is taking night classes.
Non-traditional students have variable reasons for coming to college at an older age.
Some are at TJC to earn a degree for the first time, while others have come to obtain new job skills and some have plans of finishing a degree that was started years earlier.
“I am here to complete my education I started as a teen and never finished,” said Thompson.
Non-traditional students are not intimidated by being in class with students who are sometimes young enough to be their grandchildren.
“I’m not bothered by being in class with younger students. I fit right in, considering I look young for my age,” said Thompson.
Being older and attending college does have other challenges, such as using computers daily, and learning to navigate around things online such as Apache Access.
“Computers are intimidating sometimes. They have technology now, they didn’t have way back when,” said Thompson.
Instructors may have to take extra time and help these students feel more comfortable when having to deal with computers. Most math courses have a required “MyMathLab” where students do their homework and this can only be done on-line.
“Some of my older students haven’t used a computer at all and struggle. After I take them to the lab and walk them through it, some have a better understanding,” said Pam Tindel, a math instructor at TJC.
Tindel said most of her classes are more than half full with non-traditional students and she really enjoys teaching them.
“Most are more focused and know why they’re here,” said Tindel. “They’re so hungry for that knowledge.”
Tindel was a non-traditional student herself when she returned to school in the late 90’s.
“I have shared their fears, and I know how they feel,” said Tindel.
For some non-traditional students, struggling to find a well paying job was their motivation to return to school.
“I need to be able to provide for my family. I came to college when I graduated high school in ’92, but only for a semester,” said second semester returning student T’monika Walton. “After being in the workforce for almost 20 years, I realized college was the only way for me to make some decent money.”
Walton is a 38- year- old single mother of two, and is now working full time and attending college at night.
Non-traditional students often are driven by things, other than not wanting to disappoint their parents, and therefore are better students. According to Allard, older students have a higher cumulative GPA than younger students.
“My non-traditional students show up for class, do their homework, ask questions and they stay awake,” said Tindel.
Being older and going to college can have more challenges than faced by traditional students.
“Balancing my family while attending school and working full time is my biggest challenge. Well, that and computers,” said Thompson.
Some non-traditional students don’t have a lot of confidence when they first come or return to college. But after they realize they can get in the groove, they are successful students.
“I like watching their confidence grow. It’s so rewarding for me as a teacher,” said Tindel. “I see them working so hard at something they don’t understand, and all of a sudden that little light comes on. That’s the reason I do what I do.”
Even though sometime being a non-traditional student isn’t the easiest thing to do, most are determined to finish what they started and won’t quit until graduation.
“I get it now. Doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as God allows me to breathe, I won’t quit again,” said Walton. “I am getting my degree.”