The time is 10 p.m. and the internal fan on the Hewlett Packard desktop computer has been buzzing for the last three hours and the sound of the keyboard can be heard above everything else.
Finally, after countless hours of research and planning, Dave Shalbrack, 56, finishes his ten-page class essay on the “Art of Managing a Small Business.”
Even after two years of writing papers and going to night classes, Shalbrack reapplied himself for one specific goal: graduate from college.
Looked at as a non-traditional student, Shalbrack and an increasing amount of other students represent a growing trend of non-traditional students on our nation’s campuses.
A non-traditional student is defined as usually being over the age of 24 and a person who has various other responsibilities such as work and family that can interfere with educational dreams. Other factors that can be taken into account involve the background of the student, their family history, their background, or where they are from according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) website.
Shalbrack had more than 30 years of experience in the tool and die industry as a parts technician for Case New Holland when he decided to go back to school and retool for the future.
“I actually have several reasons, some are personal, some are professional,” Shalbrack said. “My father has five children and out of the five, I was the only one who wasn’t college educated. I knew how important it was to him that I finish and I get the feeling that somehow with me finishing, it validates his opinion of higher education. The professional reason was that my manager told me that Case New Holland was big into continuing education. He strongly suggested that I take a couple of classes.
The idea of being a traditional student has changed dramatically.
“Almost three-quarters of undergraduates are in some way ‘nontraditional,’” according to the NCES.
“There’s not really a normal and the normal has changed; there’s not that line that’s so definitive anymore,” Winona State University - Rochester Associate Director of Counseling Jan Stephenson said.
Even so-called “traditional” students feel that the line between traditional and non-traditional students has changed over the years. Since it takes many students more than four years to graduate, students ages 18-25 who take five years to graduate are becoming more of the norm, said Winona State University senior Meg Carey.
For non-traditional students like Bill Stoneberg, going back to college was to save his career while benefiting from a new age learning environment.
After attending previous colleges and universities, Stoneberg’s motivation was finishing what he had previously started years earlier to earn his degree.
Going back to school is even tougher for students supporting spouses or families. A college education may be considered expensive, but non-traditional students realize that this investment is required in today’s job market that requires new skills.
“I knew it’d be a good thing but it’s costing money,” Rochester Community and Technical College student Patty Foster said. “I’m spending money that I maybe shouldn’t have too, but I decided that it was worth it in the end.”
For Lee Bjorklund, going back to school isn’t important to him just because everyone else is starting to do it.
“I am going back to school to provide for my family, to hopefully get more stability to have a good foundation to provide for them,” Bjorklund said. “This isn’t for me. If I had my choice, I would not be back in school but it’s not up to me, it’s up to my family.”
Trends indicate that this new normal may continue. As of 1970, only 28 percent of college students were above the age of 25. By 2002, students who were 25 and older made up 39 percent of all undergraduate students according to the NCES.
“I have such respect for people coming back to college and not just because they’ve been laid off, but because they truly want to learn,” Stephenson said. “I just think it’s a huge decision, and once that decision is made, they’re just so glad that they’ve done it.”
“I don’t think you’ll ever regret it. I feel so much better about myself knowing I can and that’ll take me a long ways for the rest of my life also. I know I can. It’s a great confidence booster,” Foster said.