About 40 percent of all college students are older than 25, according to U.S. Education Department data. More than a third attend classes part-time. Nearly 20 percent work full-time. About 60 percent enroll at four-year public and private schools, while the rest mostly attend community colleges or enroll at for-profit colleges. Very few attend the well-known universities topping the U.S. News and World Report rankings.
As the number of traditional high school graduates shrinks, colleges increasingly have had to recruit from places other than high schools to keep their student numbers constant and ensure a steady stream of funding.
Many schools have ramped up overseas recruiting — the number of international students increased 35 percent between 2000 and 2012 — and reached out to the ever-growing number of Hispanic students and wooed transfer students who collect credits from a number of colleges. They also are going after “nontraditional” students, a pool that continues to widen.
To be considered nontraditional, students must have at least one of these characteristics: delayed attending college, attends school part-time, works at least 35 hours a week, is financially independent, supports a family, is a single parent or did not earn a formal high school degree.
“Nontrads” often face many more challenges than traditional students, but when problems arise, it can be difficult or impossible to find help on campuses geared toward a younger crowd. Nontrads are at high risk for dropping out or taking far longer to graduate.
A handful of local nontrads — including a Navy veteran, a 19-year-old living on her own and a single mom with four children — said they need a different kind of support and commitment from their schools. And not just the financial kind.
“I wish I had known more about the process” from the beginning, said Nathan Sable, 26, a Navy veteran who just transferred to George Washington University. “I just kind of blindly applied.”
A few years ago, GWU decided to become a top destination for veterans, who bring with them worldly experiences and thousands of federal dollars courtesy of the updated G.I. Bill. It did not work well at first, as veterans thought they had been reeled in with promises and were left stranded.
So GWU bulked up its veterans affairs office, taught faculty about military culture and hired a retired Navy vice admiral to look out for the school’s 1,000 student veterans, who now each get a personalized education plan that takes life experience into account. The goal is to build a community among the student veterans and their spouses and children.