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Life experiences of non-traditional students valued

By Denny West
On April 3, 2018

On any given day, walking down the halls of Kirkwood Community College is proof of the diversity students hold dear.   

From international classmates, who represent a wide variety of cultures, to older non-traditional students, generally described as being 24 years of age or older.  With more and more adults looking to change careers or gain skills in an ever-changing job market, the days of an all-traditional college class may be gone forever.   

Young adults may find themselves working side by side with people the age of their parents or grandparents and older adults may feel they are working with children.  But surely both groups can come together in a mutual self-interest to make the most of the college experience. 

Dr. Jessica Westin, Kirkwood science professor, has worked with non-traditional students in night classes at the University of Akron, Ohio, as well as on this campus and said she sees the benefit of non-traditional students in class. “What I see as an advantage from the teacher perspective is also an advantage from the student perspective,” she said. “Non-traditional students have a different skill set and different set of responsibilities.”  

Many older students have kids, full time jobs, perhaps elder care or any number of matters in addition to school that have to be given attention. When coupling that with an ever-diminishing amount of time, that brings a sense of urgency to get things done and done well. 

“For me, I can usually rely on those students to be prepared and to follow directions, follow the rules and show up for class because they know what the stakes are,” explained Westin.

 As for them sharing class time with younger students, “Having even one or a couple non-traditional students, in many cases, makes the tone a lot more task-oriented and people buckle down a bit more.” 

It may be the physical traits of being a younger student, as well as the fact they are only three months out of their last class, that gives traditional students an edge.  “The 18-year-olds tend to have a little bit sharper memory,” said Westin.  “I have a lot of non-traditional students tell me that they just don’t remember things as well as they used to or ‘It was 30 years ago that I had chemistry’ or ‘I took that class but it’s been 10, 15 years’ and so I think that’s the biggest hurdle.”    

However, the good news for everyone is, success still stems from one’s own commitment rather than how they are categorized.   

Dr. Westin assured students, “I think there’s no reason why a traditional versus non-traditional aged student should be more or less successful.  There’s strength and weakness in each age group and then of course individuals are different, too.” 

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