Nontraditional students growing in number
Posted April 7, 2006

Traditionally college is a time to worry about classes, friends, part-time jobs and parental expectations. Yet in recent years, an increasing number of undergraduate students have added more to the equation – including families and full-time employment.

The presence of adult undergraduate students, those 25 and older, on traditional college campuses is felt throughout the nation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 6.2 million college students in the United States are 25 or older.

“A lot of them got into the workforce early on and started up families,” said Elizabeth Ramirez, educational counselor for the Campus Accelerated Programs for Adults at the University of La Verne. “Then 10 to 15 years went by and they realized that they either wanted to go back to school to fulfill a personal goal or that they could advance in their current position.”

With a growing number of today’s undergraduate student body over the age of 25, universities are beginning to respond to this trend in the form of flexible class schedules and accelerated bachelor’s degree programs.

ULV has CAPA, a program which specializes in guiding adult students through their undergraduate work as swiftly and painlessly as possible.

“One thing our students don’t have is extra time, so we have to be as efficient as possible and make sure they are not taking classes they don’t need,” Ramirez said. “Every semester we take into consideration what their work schedule and personal commitments are, and then we create an academic plan.”

Other universities are answering the call as well. In 1992, Azusa Pacific University established the Center for Adult and Professional Studies, which offers six different degree programs. Both APU and ULV are similar in that they try to supply a student with everything they are going to need under one roof.

“We try to be a one-stop-shop here because we know our students don’t have time to be running all over campus,” Ramirez said. “We can help them with admissions, academic advising and even process their graduation paper work. We are here for them from beginning to end.”

These efforts do not go unnoticed by their recipients.

“CAPA advisers are always there to help us,” said Jessica Bohatch, a 29-year-old CAPA senior and mother of two.

Bohatch keeps busy as a local grocery store’s supervisor and the mother of a 17-month-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. But she managed to make time to continue her education when she decided to pursue her bachelor’s degree in English after graduating from Riverside Community College and spending some time at Cal Poly Pomona.

“My dad used to teach at ULV and I was supposed to go here straight out of high school, but I went elsewhere,” Bohatch said. “A couple of years ago, I decided to once again look into going to ULV and I was told about the CAPA program from the admissions office; after talking to CAPA, I knew this was the school for me.”

Monica Freitas, a 42-year-old CAPA senior and single mother of five, also shares the same sentiments.

The flexibility of CAPA is incredible,” Fretias said. “I can take classes and still pick my kids up from school.”

With the load Freitas carries, she needs all the flexibility she can get.

Freitas’ hectic schedule includes being the single mother of 18-year-old twin girls and three boys, ages 16, 13 and 11. She also works as an aerobics instructor and a substitute teacher.

I heard that they had night, weekend and accelerated classes,” Freitas said. “The program was perfect for me and where I’m at in my life.”

After graduating from Mount San Antonio College with her associate’s degree, Freitas began looking into Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly Pomona to finish her bachelor’s degree.

“I never dreamed in a million years that I could go to a private college, but I kept hearing 'La Verne, La Verne, La Verne,' from everyone,” Freitas said.

CAPA and similar programs aid adult students through their undergraduate experience by offering convenient alternatives to fit the demands of their jam packed lives.

“We really have to gear our program guide all of our services around their schedules, which is why we offer evening classes, weekend classes and online courses,” Ramirez said.

“You have to approach education so differently when you’re working with adult students because they’re dealing with full-time work schedules, children and other responsibilities,” Ramirez added.

Cal State Long Beach opted to have an “Adult Re-entry Workshop,” which assists students with admission to the university, informs them of the academic programs and student support services available, and helps them to develop an individual educational strategy.

Other schools offer specially designed programs and majors to support adult students on their journey to graduation as well.

Biola University currently has two degree programs for adults who have completed 50 to 60 transferable units.

While Pitzer College has had a “New Resources Program” set in place since 1974 to assist post-college age students.

Without programs like these, success in an undergraduate setting may have been near impossible for some adult students who are dealing with real life issues, such as raising a family.

“I can take classes at night or on the weekends and still work full time; if I were a traditional undergrad I probably couldn't have afforded to take quite as many classes,” Bohatch said. “That’s the only difficult aspect of being a traditional student and it’s why I‘m glad to be in CAPA.”

It’s because of students like Bohatch and Freitas that confronting these needs is so critical.

“When more and more adults are going back to college and starting college at a later age, programs are needed to address those students,” Bohatch said. “Why not support a major portion of the population at your school? It makes sense.”

Christine Collier can be reached at ccollier@ulv.edu.

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