Nontraditional students receive mental and social benefits

For some students, making the transition from high school to college is difficult. However, there is another group of students who must make the transition from the workforce to college after years without attending school.

At UNA, nontraditional students were 14.5 percent of the undergraduate population. A non-traditional student is someone who is over the age of 25 and either coming to school for the first time or returning.

These nontraditional students receive certain benefits mentally and socially, according to a Baylor School of Medicine report.

“There are social benefits when coming back because they may be more grounded in who they are and their social community,” said Andrea Hunt, associate professor of sociology. “This means that they tend to be more focused in school.”

She said these students also bring different experiences to the classroom and create “cross-generational” connections.

Junior Molly Ezell became a nontraditional student after leaving the workforce. She said there is not much of a difference between her and her classmates.

“(Students) pretty much treat me like I’m in my 20s as well,” she said in an email. “There is a lot of mutual respect. (The) only real difference is I complain more about my aches and pains when climbing all the steps.”

Another benefit of learning at a later age is it helps with Alzheimer’s disease, said Larry Bates, psychology professor.

“Learning helps to create more branches of neurons,” he said. “The more branches the brain has, the better the mental functions are. While this doesn’t stop or prevent Alzheimer’s, it makes so it takes longer for the effects to show.”

Bates said while being a lifelong learner might help mentally, it is difficult to see what occurs in the brain while people are learning.

In order for these students to experience these benefits, schools must have the capability to provide students the chance succeed, Hunt said.

“There have been so many changes since some people have been at school,” she said. “The resources help students adapt to this change. When I was in college, I didn’t have to register online. We didn’t have advisers.

“I would say that UNA does have good resources. We have the University Success Center, and we do have quite a few students who are returning because the industry in the area has changed. So, we have been able to put in resources to help those students navigate that. Even with the resources we do have, we need more.”

She said while the University Success Center and other places are a great help for all students, they are more equip to work with freshmen than nontraditional students.

Ezell said she uses these resources and will use them again in the future.

Hunt said while the social and mental benefits are perks, this is not the reason why people come back to school.

“After high school, many people take an alternative path,” she said. “This can either be going into the workforce, the military or starting a family. After a point, they see that they need to come back and get an education. For some people, it’s after raising children that they decide to come back to school, or it’s them seeing that career advancement is limited without a further degree.”

Ezell said she is glad she made the decision to return to school.

“I decided to return to school after the casino I worked at closed down,” she said. “I figured it was time to follow my dreams of getting into film, after spending the last 25 years of my life in the workforce. Coming to UNA was a great decision.”