Nontraditional students increase across college campuses, education officials say

Posted October 18, 2016

More nontraditional students are flocking to college campuses, including UW-River Falls, according to education officials.

Economic uncertainty and changing workplace environments are causing people older than 24 to reconsider four-year degree programs at universities around the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 807,800 nontraditional students are projected to be enrolled at U.S. universities during the 2016 fall semester, up from 725,000 in 2006.

UW-River Falls has prepared for this trend with the creation of programs designed to help older students, including the Adult Degree Completion Program for business students, and courses offered through the Office of Outreach and Continuing Education. Mike Bilden, director of the Adult Degree Completion Program, said his program has seen a consistent number of students since 2010.

“We’ve been really steady and had steady enrollment when times haven’t been that great and when times are good,” Bilden said.

Each semester, the ADC sees around 110 students averaging 37 years old. Students in the program take the same degree courses as full-time students but at more convenient times of the day or online. Most classes are taught at the Hudson Learning Center in Hudson, a space reserved primarily for adult learning programs. The ADC’s business degree has led the program to be UWRF’s largest adult option.

“Across the country, business administration or something that’s business related is most often what people are seeking because the majority of adult students are working at least part time,” Bilden said. “In our case, in the ADC program, most are at or near full time, and they’re in some kind of business function so business administration or a business-related program seems to fit their employment goals.”

Nontraditional students often enroll in degree programs in hopes of gaining more financial stability but some students cite more personal reasons. UW System Regent Lisa Erickson decided to enroll in college courses after spending much of her adult life running a catering business. Erickson said she needed a new challenge and felt her lack of a higher education distanced her from people her own age.

“I always felt like I tried to educate myself, but maybe I didn’t know the right words, the right phrases,” Erickson said. “I didn’t have that, so I always felt not as confident in a conversation with intellectuals.”

Andrea Lewis enrolled in the university in 2014, hoping to finish her degree, which she started back in 1998 at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Lewis said not having a degree has limited her employment opportunities.

“I found myself not as competitive in the job market and have always felt not having that education on my résumé held me back,” Lewis said.

UWRF also has been working to provide convenience to nontraditional students who struggle to find time for things traditional students may be able to do easier, such as checking out books from Textbook Services.