Non-Traditional Graduate Students: Present Successes & Future Possibilities
MLA 2021--Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities Panel
The number of non-traditional students in graduate programs is increasing, thanks in part to the welcomed efforts that institutions of higher learning have made to both recruit and offer resources to students of this community. The term "non-traditional" is often applied to students based on their part-time status due to family or work commitments, a generational gap between themselves and other students, or a disability that affects their experiences with graduate school. The term can additionally be applied to students whose qualifications differentiate their higher education experiences and needs from those of their “traditional” peers.
Research indicates that the unique challenges facing non-traditional graduate students often affect their success, as demonstrated by studies like the 2013 one from the National Student Clearing House Research Center that found “only 42% of 25- 50 64-year-olds complete degrees” (Shapiro, et. al). Other studies point to emerging strategies for supporting non-traditional graduate students, as well as the possibility of those yet to be explored. David Jones offers one such example of the former in his 2019 study, which concludes that “university personnel can influence the adaptation of nontraditional students through persistent gestures of support, discreet and appropriate responses to learning needs, support for community in classrooms, and guided self-exploration (106).
Opening up academia to a broader range of students than those historically centered in an academic environment offers universities the opportunity to embrace richer classroom discussions, unique perspectives, and a far more diverse and healthy student body, but the position of non-traditional students requires new and flexible approaches to academic engagement, financial plans, and housing needs, to name just a few topics. This panel seeks to give voice to non-traditional students and the faculty and staff that work with them to share their experiences and discuss successful strategies for navigating higher learning. We wish to discuss both the specific challenges facing non-traditional students and the effective strategies that this community and their advocates have employed for success. We encourage a broad interpretation of the term "non-traditional" in order to highlight the expanding and diverse nature of this demographic and we specifically invite engagement with the following questions:
Do graduate programs offer sufficient access to non-traditional students?
What are some positive and negative experiences of non-traditional students in higher education?
How useful is the term “non-traditional," and to whom is it useful?
What can schools, as well as individual programs, do to support non-traditional graduate students?
Are there successful models of programs already engaged in supporting non-traditional students?
What is the current visibility of non-traditional graduate students in academia?
How can we celebrate and highlight the diversity that non-traditional students add to graduate programs?
What is causing the shifting demographics of graduate student populations in higher education, and how can we position this reality in its proper historical and sociological context?
What is the embodied experience of non-traditional graduate students, and what can this teach us about the future of academia?
Jones, David. “Modulations by Nontraditional Graduate Students to Overcome Imposed Withdrawal.” The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, vol. 67, no. 2-3, pp. 97-108. 06 Nov. 2019. doi: 10.1080/07377363.2019.1680265. Accessed 08 Feb. 2020.
Shapiro, Doug, et al. Completing College: A National View of Student Attainment Rates-Fall 2007 Cohort (Signature Report No. 6). National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Dec. 2013. http://nscresearchcenter.org/signaturereport6/#Sig6-Results-3. Accessed 08 Feb. 2020.