Non-traditonal students increase nationally

U.S. Army veteran Robert Lee won six commendation medals for guarding Fort Drum, 23 years ago.

In two years, Lee will attain his next honor: a college degree.

“I don’t think there’s words to express how good it will feel,” Lee said. “The more you earn, you get a little more recognition.”

Lee, a 43 year old resident of Watertown is a member of the Non-Traditional Student Committee, an organization which provides fiscal and educational services to adult undergraduates.

“Whether it be online students or evening students, we are trying to offer resources to support them,” said Sarah Wehrle, academic planning coordinator of the Center of Division and Extended Learning. “To share stories and experiences and to find support in the student community as well.”

According to the committee, a non-traditional student is a undergraduate, who is 24 years or older, has dependents, a delay in education, works full-time or has military experience.

Next month, beginning Nov. 2, the committee will host a week-long celebration of events for non-traditional students. The activities include a coffee kickoff, snack and chat, a evening of pizza, door prizes and a promotional give away.

Networking opportunities with non-traditional student alumni will be available. The event caters to the busy lifestyles of older undergraduates.

“There is going to be bagged lunch for students to grab and go,” Wehrl said. “These events are geared to non-traditional students who are generally really busy [and] on the go. We don’t want to make anything that requires them to sit for an hour.”

Among 18 million U.S. college students, 38 percent are 25 years or older, according to a 2007 report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

“It’s a juggling act having to figure out time to fit in studying, attending class [and] doing their online work,” Wehrle said. “Often non-traditional students have children which they have to take care of.”

Lee’s wife is expecting her first child.
“I don’t have a traditional job at the moment, so I have time to take in as much as I can,” Lee said. “I work with school media…that is in place of a job, so I can get experience.”

Brian Vanella, a production manager at Novelis, an Aluminum Factory in Oswego, can work up to 55 hours a week.

“I am on call three nights a week,”Vanella said. “It’s a challenging environment, [and] it’s pretty intimidating when you come to school [after] being away for so long.”

Scheduling conflicts at the factory often clash with his extracurricular activities.

“We are a new organization and we don’t have many people,” Vanella said. “I had to take a vacation day from work to come and support the club and get our name out there. When you take a day off of work, people covering for you can only cover so much.”