Commuter and Non-Traditional Student Week Highlights Difficulties of Unique Schooling Experience

It’s a rainy Friday evening, and Moriah Geer, a hard-working mother of two and part-time employee at the Commuter and Non-Traditional Students Programs’ (CNTSP) commuter lounge, is manning the fort in the sparsely populated Wade Center with a freshly brewed pot of coffee and a smile.

Geer isn’t an anomaly here — the lounge is a haven for students juggling busy family lives, long-work hours and full course loads. The quiet space serves as an excellent place to study, rest and discuss the unique hardships of the “Non-Traditional” path to a college degree.

Though, perhaps “unique” is a misnomer for students like these. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 8.2 million postsecondary education students were age 25 or over in 2013, compared to 12.2 million “traditional” attendees aged 24 and under. Figures that are projected to stay relatively steady.

Regardless, for students like Geer, programs like these can be the eye in a raging storm of challenges distinct to non-traditional students — challenges rare among students arriving straight out of high school.

The devil isn’t just in the details — on occasion, even those who should be students’ greatest allies can serve to make their goals feel unattainable. Whether a function of forgetfulness of malicious intent, university faculty can make life especially difficult for these particular students with inflexible syllabi, tight deadlines and quick turnaround on lengthy assignments.

Though, according to Geer, there are also faculty who are working hard to provide them with an education that fits with their unusual circumstances.

“My oldest son is autistic and one semester I needed to go to a meeting with the special ed department at his school,” Geer said. “But they’d scheduled the meeting for the same time I was supposed to take a biology exam.”

“I was sure that I was going to have to miss the meeting but I decided to ask the professor,” she continued. “He responded almost immediately that my son was my priority and he’d be happy to give me the exam later. That simple act of kindness meant so much to me, that he understood that I was trying to better my life and still take care of my children at the same time.”

But it’s not only academics that cause some of these students to struggle. When it comes to housing and financial aid, they can face an uphill battle.

“…there is not as much available in the way of merit awards that students are offered when they are first year students,” Jennifer Brown, a mother of six and employee at the commuter lounge, said. “This is sad too as non-trad students typically do better academically [than] traditional students. There is a lot to be desired by these students.”

Brown is referring to a concern common among non-traditional students. Merit awards typically require recent SAT scores — something many students coming back to school don’t have readily available. This can make an already tight financial situation even more difficult to navigate, as older students struggle to both provide for their families and afford the costly price of tuition.

Still, the chance to better their lives, and, in some cases, the lives of their children, make their sacrifices worth it.

“Trying to juggle the responsibilities of being a mom, such as bathing, feeding, transporting and all that comes with those things can prove a challenge,” Brown said. “My life is my kids and since being back in school I have had to sacrifice missing sporting events and such so that I can better my life for my kids.”

And for those working so hard, the sense of community that the program provides is an irreplaceable asset.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve felt like giving up and dropping out but having this community of individuals who are also struggling but who are here for one another and encourage each other has really kept me going,” Geer said.

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