Is it time to redefine who 'traditional' students are?

74% of students in 2011-2012 had at least one 'nontraditional' characteristic

Nearly three-fourths of all undergraduates have at least one trait of a nontraditional student, according to a new National Center for Education Statistics brief.

The report examines student financial aid information from the 2011-2012 school year and urges institutions to broaden and diversify their support services.

The report defines nontraditional students as having at least one of the following characteristics:

  • Being financially independent from their parents;
  • Having at least one dependent;
  • Being a sole caregiver;
  • Having a nontraditional high school diploma;
  • Working full time;
  • Enrolling part time; or
  • Delaying enrollment.

The vast majority of students had one of the traits, which put them at a higher risk of not graduating. Just 26% of students did not have a single nontraditional trait.

The findings suggest not only that the definition of "traditional" students needs updating, but also that schools should explore more flexible degrees, badging and credentialing, credit hour alternatives, and online programs, writes Meris Stansbury for eCampus News.

The researchers also found that of students who applied for financial aid:

  • The more nontraditional characteristics a student had, the more likely they were to take an online course;
  • Financially independent students usually chose to attend public two-year or for-profit institutions;
  • A majority of students reported attending college to "prepare to earn a degree later;" and
  • While a majority undergrads choose to study business, those who reported more nontraditional traits were even more likely to do so (Stansbury, eCampus News, 9/28).

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