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Non Traditional Students in Higher Education

Written by on September 2, 2019

August 28, 2019

Non traditional Students in Higher Education

Higher Education is the quintessential archetype of rebranding. Whether revising a mission statement to accurately reflect recent shifts in cultural demographics or broadening the academy’s category classification of students, colleges and universities nationwide are rethinking the traditional student enrollment standard.  In fact, nontraditional students—once considered “other”—are now embraced as the “new normal.”


And just who are these “never-say-die” enrollees? According to Ben Barrett, a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America—an organization dedicated to confronting the challenges caused by rapid technological and social change—nontraditional students can be classified as “…those who are low-income, first-generation, above the age of 23, financially independent, living off campus and attending part-time. [They] have found themselves elbow-to-elbow with the more commonly conjured image of a college student, one who is between the ages of 18 and 22, living on the quad, attending full-time, and from a middle- to high-income family.”

Norfolk State University is no exception to this shifting paradigm.  In fact, its mean (average) student age for fall 2018 enrollment was 24.  Suffice it to say, the rate of nontraditional students is growing rapidly nationwide and is expected to equal or surpass historically served populations in the not-too-distant future.

NSU’s Virginia Beach Higher Education Center and Continuing Education Department, which provides multi-educational services and opportunities for traditional and non-traditional students, may be destined to rebrand its mission as more and more empty-nesters and second-chancers take courses for cultural, vocational, or personal enrichment.

The reasons for nontraditional students attending college are as varied as the people who opt to do so. Anything from upticks in the economy to “second acts” embraced on the heels of retirement—Baby Boomers come to mind—can catalyze those representing a broad demographic spectrum to populate academic rosters.