Non-trads a tradition at UWSDon Leighton isn’t a traditional college student. But the 59-year-old graduate isn’t an oddity on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus either.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Don Leighton isn’t a traditional college student. But the 59-year-old graduate isn’t an oddity on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus either.
Non-traditional students make up more than a quarter of the school’s enrollment – 28 percent.
“That’s the highest in the UW-System,” said Jim Miller, coordinator of institutional research at UWS.
The number of non-traditional students – those age 24 and older – has been rising every year.
“This is probably the highest it’s been in years,” said Tanya Roth, director of admissions. She attributes much of the growth to the distance learning program, which offers scholars a chance to complete their degree from home.
“We take the campus to them,” said UWS Spokesman Al Miller.
The Distance Learning Center was founded in 1977 to help adult learners earn a bachelor’s degree beyond the boundaries of campus. It has evolved from correspondence courses, audio and video tapes to the Internet. Currently, the center has 415 students enrolled.
“That number has essentially doubled since 2006,” said Peter Nordgren, interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and outreach. Some of that growth is driven by the economic downturn, he said. But it also reflects a broader awareness of online learning as a viable way to earn a degree.
The distance learning course with the highest enrollment is health and wellness, a general education requirement. But Nordgren couldn’t pinpoint specific programs as “popular.”
“Enrollments are established by degree requirements, and if there’s one thing that characterizes our adult learners, it’s that they’re focused on completing their degrees,” he said.
Even if you subtract the distance learning students, 18 percent of UWS students are non-traditional.
Mark Brookemole, 48, is one of them. The Superior man is a year and a half away from earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology with an English minor. For the career military man, getting a degree was a personal goal. UWS is helping him meet it.
“They really work with you,” he said. College staff sifted through his military transcript, transferring as many credits as possible. Then he started taking courses on campus.
“With smaller class sizes you get to know who your teachers are,” Brookmole said, adding that “They are just as dedicated to you as you are to academics.”
The retired member of the U.S. Coast Guard said UWS pairs a small school feel with high academic standards. Add in the excellent faculty, he said, and “there’s not a better place to go.”
“We do our best to be understanding and meet the needs of non-traditional students,” Jim Miller said. Three year business degrees have been developed; students with associate’s degrees can easily transfer in. UWS even offers an on-campus daycare, not a usual college option.
And non-traditional students at UWS find they are not alone.
“I think they like it here because they know when they walk on campus they are probably going to see someone else their age,” Roth said.
Brookmole said he was initially nervous about how he would be perceived by younger students, but they have been very accepting.
Having older learners can change class dynamics.
“Traditional students sharing classrooms with non-traditional students appreciate the kind of experiences they bring to the education,” Roth said. “It’s enriching the education for everyone.”
Non-traditional students have to apply to the college just like their traditional counterparts. For those who are over the age of 20, however, ACT or SAT test scores are waived. High school transcripts and information from other schools attended are required. Older students must also submit a personal statement about why they want to go back to school. It’s a holistic, big picture review based on all the factors, Roth said.
“Those more than five years beyond high school have greater weight on elements such as their life experience and personal essay,” Nordgren said.
With the current economic troubles, campus administrators expect older students will continue to look for education options at UWS.
“I anticipate this number to continue to grow,” Roth said. “Retraining and education is going to be the driving force that’s going to get us out of this slump.”
For more information on UWS, visit www.uwsuper.edu.