Are Nontraditional Students the New Normal?

Back in a September episode Morning Edition, NPR reported on some research surrounding nontraditional students and “the new normal” when it comes to enrollment demographics.

Here’s what it looks like. Out of 17 million enrolled undergraduate students, one in five is at least 30 years old. One in four is caring for a child. And 47% go to school, at some point, part time. This is simply a profound demographic shift.

Alexandria Walton Radford of the think tank RTI International says it’s been this way for quite a while — at least since 1996, when RTI began looking at nontraditional students who fit into at least one of the categories: financially independent of their parents; having a child or other dependent; being a single caregiver; lacking a high school diploma; delaying postsecondary enrollment; attending school part time; employed full time.

A third of such students fit two or three of these categories. Talk about “unique concerns.”

How to address them? After-hours tutoring — as well as advising and financial aid services. Extra parking for commuters. Even child care (Indiana University Southeast, a nearby college to us here at Capture Higher Ed, hosts the Children’s Center, which has been on campus for 40 years and was ranked “14th best in nation” by

What we see on TV is no longer valid. Even the phrase “nontraditional,” says researcher Radford, is really no longer adequate. And if all journalists, researchers and policymakers see is young undergrads fresh out of high school, well, that’s a problem.

Reaching out to these nontraditional students, too, requires a different methodology. At Capture, we’re looking into the research, and we’re looking closely at students. Contact us to learn how.

By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed