Where have all the non-traditional students gone?
Apparently, not to community colleges. Priced out of the market, I'm afraid. From James Orbesen, writing in The Atlantic.
All throughout graduate school, in preparation for teaching, I read the works of educators such as UCLA’s Mike Rose, about the magic of community colleges to empower the so-called “non-traditional” student: someone who doesn’t enroll in higher education directly out of secondary school, who falls outside the 18-24 demographic, or has professional or personal obligations that eclipse their academic pursuits. Rose writes that these students are seeking a “second chance.”
According to his 2012 book Back to School, there are over 10 million students in community college with backgrounds as diverse and varying as imaginable. Rose tells the story of Henry, a big man in a wheelchair who had made some mistakes--a gangland encounter left him a paraplegic. Moving back in with his parents and deciding to pursue community college, Henry got to have “what he calls his rebirth.”
With stories like this running through my head, I readied myself, read, and planned to teach to a class full of students deemed “non-traditional.”
The reality of my classroom was far different from what I expected. All four of my first-year composition courses this fall semester were made up, almost entirely, of students directly from high school. In each class, only one or two were veterans or adults over the age of 24. Age and experience-wise, my students are traditional college students.
My experience teaching younger students at community college is not unusual. More and more “traditional” students are attending community college today. One of the schools where I teach, the College of Lake County, has experienced a 30-percent increase in enrollments for students under 24 in the past decade. Traditionally aged students now hold a comfortable majority (almost 60 percent) of the overall student body.
This trend isn’t limited to just where I teach. Research from the American Association of Community Colleges’ Christopher M. Mullin demonstrates that, nationally, community colleges are becoming younger: Between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of community college students ages 18 to 24 went up from 47 percent to 54 percent.