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Campus Women Lead

Winter 2012

Volume 40
Number 3

Access and Success for Nontraditional Students


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About This Issue

Multiple Pathways:
Access and Success for Nontraditional Students

University of Portland
University of Portland

As the US economy continues its “jobless recovery,” the national conversation about higher education has become focused on the need to provide more students pathways to the postsecondary degrees that are essential to economic and civic health. President Obama, state governors, Lumina Foundation, and others have called on colleges and universities to significantly increase the number of students who successfully complete degrees or credentials. But as AAC&U and many others have argued, to attain these goals, higher education will need to include those who do not conform to the mold of the “traditional” student: an eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-old, economically dependent, recent high school graduate. In fact, students age twenty-five and older comprise a significant share of enrolled undergraduates (approximately 36 percent of women and 30 percent of men), and their numbers are projected to grow considerably over the next decade (NCES 2011).

With so many students breaking old stereotypes, it’s inevitable that their needs will not only diverge from those that traditional programs were designed to address, but also, quite significantly, from each other’s. Nontraditional students face an array of challenges related to economic need, childcare, competing workplace demands, and insufficient social and structural supports, whether from friends and family or from their colleges and universities. Indeed, higher education is not always adequately equipped to address specific concerns arising from nontraditional students’ life experiences at home or abroad, as civilian workers or military servicemembers. But some institutions are leading the way in helping these students find what Susan Marine refers to as their “uniquely hewn” pathways to the degree.

This issue’s authors speak to the supports colleges and universities can provide to ensure that nontraditional students, and nontraditional women in particular, succeed. While Susan Marine describes programs women’s colleges and others offer for nontraditional women students, Gloria Thomas and Carol Hollenshead share a successful program housed at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women. Florence A. Hamrick and Corey B. Rumann offer guidance to address the needs of women veterans and servicemembers, and Kevin Miller does the same for women and men with children. Michelle Jozaitis and Sherita Rooney describe their own pathways through supportive community colleges and beyond, illuminating truth in the claim that, as Susan Marine writes, “feeling valued as learners in both their families and their school communities matters greatly.” 

Wherever each student’s path begins, colleges and universities should aim to ensure that the way forward is free of pitfalls, potholes, overgrowth, fences, and unnecessary detritus. While some students may take longer to reach their destinations (and many take worthwhile detours along the way), higher education should do what it can to ensure that their journeys, long or short, are as smooth as possible. By tending its multiple pathways, higher education can not only create educational journeys that are less hazardous for large numbers of its students, but also lay the groundwork for an economic and civic commons that is healthier for us all.

—Kathryn Peltier Campbell, editor


National Center of Education Statistics (NCES). 2011. “Chapter 3-A: Postsecondary Education: Degree Granting.” Digest of Education Statistics: 2010.

"Challenges for women entering higher education in adulthood abound--but so do opportunities."

-- Susan Marine


This issue of On Campus with Women explores what colleges and universities are doing--and what more they could do--to support nontraditional students, particularly women.

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Gloria Thomas and Carol Hollenshead share how the University of Michigan is providing financial and other supports to adult women students.

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Meena Laad describes the possibilities for empowering Indian women through distance education.

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