Non-traditional students have become the new normal on college and university campuses across the United States. Non-traditional students are those who do not attend college right out of high school, have families, jobs, and homes off-campus, and have taken time off between semesters of college. Basically a non-traditional student does not start college right out of high school, does not live on campus, or does not attend school full time. Sound familiar? That’s probably because you either are one, have been one, or know someone who has that experience on campus.

At the same time, start-and-stop education is also on the rise, contributing to the rising rate of non-traditional students enrolled. Start-and-stop students begin at one school, take time off or change schools, re-enroll either at the same school or somewhere else, and so forth. The reasons for this range from finances and high tuition costs to changing their mind about their focus and major, to being at a school or in a city that doesn’t suit the needs and goals of the student. Taking time off of school to work or travel is common, but a does bode well for actually completing a degree. A recent study conducted by InsideTrack, the American Council on Education, and NASPA found that 1/3 of American students who re-enrolled in college or university during the years 2005-2008 actually completed their degree.

Why are non-traditional students struggling to complete their degrees?

Some common reasons are that most college and university campuses are designed to meet the needs of traditional students. Non-traditional students fall through the cracks because they are not immersed in the college experience. Having to take a part-time course load while balancing school with work and family leaves many non-traditional students overwhelmed, overstretched, and not fully engaged enough to see the degree through. Not to mention going to school part time prolongs the number of years total it takes to complete a degree. A lot can happen to knock an education track off course in those years.

Another reason that non-traditional students aren’t completing their degrees is primarily a problem for stop-and-start students who transfer schools. Their credits won’t all transfer and they end up bored in classes they have already taken elsewhere that they need for credit. This means more money and more time, which means a higher rate of stopping again, and the cycle continues.

Another answer as to why non-traditional students struggle to complete their degree may be that they don’t intend to complete a degree at all. Many colleges – especially community colleges – offer classes teaching particular skills and trades. Many students will take classes to learn a specific skill, like electrician skills, carpentry, or welding – augment their skill set for a job they already have, or to meet the requirements for a job they could get. They learn the skills they need and then rejoin the workforce. Sticking around to complete a degree was never their intention to begin with, or at least never their primary intention for enrollment.

The fact of the matter is, most non-traditional students already have the credits and work experience needed to meet the skill set and knowledge base requirements for a degree equivalency. If you have work experience and some college credit, but no degree, going back to school only to risk dropping out again may not be the right answer. For a free consultation on your education, visit us at


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