November 17th Provisions Session: Teaching Non-Traditional Students

**To access the podcast from the session, click here.**

Our third Provisions session of the year explored the theme of Teaching Non-Traditional Students. Presenters shared previous experience with teaching non-tradtional students, and effective strategies for improving success for non-traditional students. An audience of approximately 40 faculty and staff members attended to hear presentations from Katherine Voegtle, Professor of Educational Psychology, Deborah Reyome, Assistant Professor of Social Work, and Shawn Sutton, President of the Student Veterans Association.

Kathy Voegtle started off the session by discussing her view of non-traditional students as extraordinary (click here for her presentation). By this she meant that non-traditional students have an abundance to offer to both professors, and other students within the class. Kathy proceeded to discuss what it meant to be a non-taditional students, and what sort of characteristics are common of non-traditional students. Some characteristics she mentioned were, older than 22 (or possibly 24), financially independent, part-time course load (in some cases full-time), possibly could have previously attended college, commutes to campus, varying sociodemographics, and enrollment in a “non-traditional program”. Kathy spoke about the statistics of non-traditional students in college, but highlighted that 51% of all students are from low income backgrounds. Kathy noted that low income students are now considered to be “traditional.” Throughout the presentation,  Kathy emphasized that non-traditional students face numerous challenges, including financial pressure, alienation, insecurity (even though these students tend to be the best in class), time management, unpredictable life situations, and campus navigation. Kathy noted that professors also face challenges when teaching a class with non-traditional students, such as finding the time to be accommodating. As professors, it is important to consider the developmental level of students, as well as to embellish on individual student strengths. Many non-traditional students are adult learners, which may create challenges for professors and other students in the classroom. Adult learners are typically more engaged, which means that they ask more questions, challenge conclusions, and engage in more critical thinking. Kathy ended with emphasizing the importance of enjoying the journey, including the challenges, feedback,  and outcomes that are experienced along the way.

Next to present was Deborah Reyome, on “The Do’s, The Don’ts, and the Having Said This…“. Deborah began her presentaion with a broad overview of non-traditional students, reiterating much of the information Kathy presented. In her discussion about what to do as a professor when teaching non-traditional students, she mentioned the importance of recognizing student needs. Non-traditional students may often have a variety of needs, that are different than those of traditional students. One way in which Deborah accommodates the needs of her non-traditional students is by offering phone appomintements for those that may be unable to make it to her office. Deborah proceeded to explain some of the challenges that she has had with other students in her classroom. She shared a personal experience about an older student (maybe in her 50’s) who often spoke up in class. Two of her “traditional” students engaged in non-verbal cues (eye rolling) whenever the older student spoke up. Deborah shared that she made sure to speak with the two students about how their behavior in class appeared to be rude. This is a clear representation of the kind of struggle that a professor may face in a classroom with both traditional and non-traditional students. In her discussion of what not to do, Deborah emphasized 3 main ideas, 1- not to take behavior personally, 2-not to forget you have an obligation as a teacher to promote respect in the classroom, and 3-not to forget your role as a teacher and the purpose of the class. Deborah ended her presentation by discussing the importance of recognizing the strengths of non-traditional students, such as thier dedication, real world experience, and rich contributions to the class.

Last to present was Shawn Sutton, a current “non-traditional” veteran student at the College of Saint Rose. Shawn started off his presentation by explaining how and why veteran students are different from traditional students. A common theme throughout his presentation was that veteran students do not commit to school for a career, instead they want to better themselves and those around them. Veteran students perceive education as a way of bettering their lives, as opposed to the traditional student that perceives education as a career path. A second theme of his presentation was that veteran students have a different mentality than traditional students. The military has taught him to put the group’s needs before his own individual needs. This can be problematic because he, and other veteran students, may keep questions to themselves so they don’t interrupt the rest of the class. In addition, Shawn spoke about how veteran students may not ask for help because of the phrasing that professors use. Veteran students perceive “accommodations” as special treatment. Shawn argues that instead of using the word “accommodation” to offer help,  professors should use the word “adaptation.” Shawn then proceeded to talk about many of the misconceptions that some professors have about veteran students, such as perceiving them as victims. Shawn ended the presentation by shedding awareness to the identity crises that veteran students face, while trying to become a “citizen” again.

Following the presentations, the floor was briefly opened up for discussion and questions from the audience.


Teaching Non-Traditional Students: November 17th Session

What exactly is a “non-traditional student”? 

There are numerous components to what constitute a non-traditional student. The NODA-Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention website, provides a brief overview of what a non-traditional student is. Basically, a non-traditional student is any student that does not complete college directly after graduating High School. Typically non-traditional students are over the age of 24, are enrolled part-time, commute to campus, already have a full-time job, and have children and or a spouse that are dependent on them. There are many more characteristics that can describe a non-traditiona student, but the few listed above are the most common. The NODA website briefly describes the importance of making an effort to improve the college experience for non-traditional students. At the end of the piece, NODA provides several resources for non-traditional students, college professors, and other educational professionals to access.

Due to the juggling of other responsibilities, non-traditional learners can face numerous challenges in obtaining their degree. In Prospectus, Scott Barnes wrote a piece, “The challenges of being a non-traditional student” in which describes some of the challenges a non-traditional student may undergo. Scott writes about an adult re-entry advisement center that helps non-traditional students make the transition into college. He reports on ways in which advisors can support and promote academic success in non-traditional students. Scott also mentions a piece about non-traditional learners having more focus and determination, due to more life experience.

In Success for Adult Students, Stephen G. Pelletier discusses ways in which universities can improve to make college a more successful experience for non-traditional learners. Stephen provides a great overview of some of the challenges that are faced by non-traditional students. Some of the challenges that are mentioned in the article include: juggling between home and school responsibilities, trouble with transitioning to college class characteristics, confusion about the system of college, problems with credit transfer, holding different expectations, and having different learning styles (as all students do). I think the following sentence does a great job summing up non-traditional challenges:

“One problem for adults is the constant, competing tension between life obligations and educational obligations.” – Jamie Merisotis

 CTE Clearinghouse provides an extensive list of resources for educational professionals to access, including websites, podcasts, journal articles, and videos!

Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, November 17th session on “Teaching Non-Traditional Students. Our esteemed presenters for the November 17th session include:

Katherine Voegtle, Professor of Educational Psychology
Deborah Reyome, Assistant Professor of Social Work
Student Veterans Association

Provisions’ sessions are from 12:-00-1:15 in Standish A&B. All are welcome and no reservations are required. Free lunch and refreshments will be available! Hope to see you all there!! 🙂