Nontraditional student numbers on the rise

An aging population has led to more nontraditional students enrolling in universities nationwide.

In years to come, University students may see more gray hair, balding heads and sagging flesh; the makeup of The United States’ postsecondary education system is changing.

An aging and diversified U.S. population has universities marketing to nontraditional students nationwide. In recent years, postsecondary institutions have expanded continuing education programs, and the University has mirrored that trend.

Along with aging baby boomers and their children, the amount of new high school graduates will decrease significantly in Minnesota after this academic year, according to a report by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The report predicted that graduation levels would drop throughout the Midwest, resulting in more competitive recruiting for Minnesota’s colleges.

The report predicted that Minnesota’s annual high school graduate levels will decrease by about 10 percent until the 2013-2014 academic year, and might not recover until 2020-2021.

The University is devoting more resources to aging generations, director of individualized degrees Josh Borowicz said.

The College of Continuing Education is composed of multiple programs, he said, many of which are seeing significant growth.

Borowicz said the University opened a multidisciplinary studies program in 2005 for nontraditional students working full time. The interdisciplinary program was created because of a growing need for a program built around night and distance-based classes, he said, adding that they aren’t necessarily replacing traditional students.

“We’re slowly moving in the direction with what some of our traditional degree programs do,” he said.

The program started relatively small and now has about 40 students, Borowicz said, adding that he expects it to grow.

The University’s continuing professional education program, a noncredit program which now enrolls 5,000 students per year, has expanded 20 percent every year for the past four years, Linda Halliburton, director of professional development programs, said.

Michelle Koker, director of extended and international programs, said her program makes up a majority of the nontraditional students enrolled at the University for credit. She said enrollment numbers have risen from 3,100 to 3,700 since last spring, but a trend is hard to identify.

Koker said this spring her program launched a marketing campaign to reach nontraditional students for the first time. The theme is that students don’t need to enroll in a degree program to go to classes. She said the majority of students in her program are those returning to higher education trying to complete prerequisites.

“I would say the number we’re seeing very well might be due to a larger pool of prospective students that are midcareer or at the end of a career,” Koker said.

She said an aging population isn’t the only reason for the increase in admissions, though. Koker said the weak economy might give incentive for adults to return to school, along with an increase in students with English as a second language.

Wendy Goodmanson, an undergraduate enrolled in the CCE’s multidisciplinary studies program, is among the nontraditional students flocking to post-secondary institutions. At 45 years old, she is enrolled full time because she isn’t the only provider for her family for the first time.

Goodmanson said she doesn’t regret waiting to return because she wasn’t always sure what she wanted to do. However, she said she wishes the University had more traditional majors and requirements that could be completed through night and weekend courses.

“Lots of people today, especially the adults returning to school, they have multiple demands in their life,” she said. “And there’s not a lot of flexibility on the University’s part that accommodates the student in class schedules.”