The New ‘Traditional Student’

Over the past couple of years, as I've traveled around the country talking to graduate students about community-college careers, I've had the pleasure of visiting some of America's finest campuses.

I always take the opportunity, if I have the time, to wander around, breathing in the atmosphere, taking in the sights and sounds. On a certain level, I identify with the students that I see hurrying to class or sprawled on the quad. I began my education at a selective private liberal-arts college, which, although small, had its share of well-manicured lawns, tree-lined walkways, and old stone buildings competing with aggressively modern brick architecture.

My memories of "going off to college" are probably very similar to theirs as well: loading up the family station wagon (today it would be a minivan or SUV), my parents helping me carry my stuff into the dorm, Mom making sure the bed boasted actual linens before hugging me goodbye.

And yet on another level, as a longtime professor and sometime administrator at community colleges, I am increasingly aware that the nostalgic film playing in my head, as I walk those elite four-year campuses, is more akin to an old episode of Leave It to Beaver than to contemporary reality. My experiences and those of the students I encounter at elite campuses no longer resemble the common experience of many college students today. What we used to call "nontraditional" students—older, working, married, and maybe still living at home—now constitute a large and growing percentage of those attending college in the United States. In fact, they are fast becoming the new traditional.

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