The non-traditional student — one who works 35 hours a week or more, has dependents aside from a spouse, is financially independent, or doesn't enroll in college directly out of high school — has quickly become the new tradition. Their numbers have grown since the 1970s, and according to a 2000 U.S. Department of Education study, 73 percent of undergraduates could qualify as somehow "non-traditional."
It's the Zeitgeist, of course, to break traditions. But rarely does that come to the detriment of slacker lifestyle. No slackers were reached for comment (mother couldn't wake them ... from their pool float) for this story, but we'd suggest they'll find the following a nightmare.
Start with Google
Leave it to a tech school to offer online classes a step ahead of the pack. Colorado Technical University's Virtual Campus was named the "Best of the Best" in the 2009 Computerworld Honors program in the Academia and Education category. You can customize learning preferences depending on whether you're a visual, auditory, or read-write learner, and check out the Virtual Commons to "join clubs and participate in extracurricular activities."
Online classes like theirs offer non-traditional students access not only to classes that otherwise wouldn't be accessible, but also to other students directly via chat or Web-based whiteboards, or indirectly on threaded discussion boards. As on a traditional campus, you can learn from being "around" people with totally different life experiences. At Nazarene Bible College, for instance, "We welcome and recruit local students, but we're a much bigger enterprise than just Colorado Springs," says vice president of academic affairs Gary Streit.
(Hell, on this note, you can consider extension courses from Stanford, Harvard or Cal-Berkeley. Even BYU offers extension courses online. Just don't think you discovered a loophole to its rules of admittance — you will still need to abide by the Honor Code.)
Of course, online you often pay higher tuition, and must be self-motivated and disciplined. You can have feelings of detachment from their school that can damage your psyche, if not as badly as a swirly. A 2009 Department of Education study found that "a blend of online and face-to-face instruction, on average, had stronger learning outcomes" than exclusively online instruction — or even face-to-face instruction, for that matter.
So maybe there's another route to consider: weekend classes.
A generation ago, it would have been unthinkable for a school to be open those days except for the purposes of detention-serving and Breakfast Club-forming. This spring, however, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs launched its "Weekend University" concept. A total of 215 students enrolled in these Saturday-only classes, exceeding the university's expectations.
"We actually thought of the idea and made it to fruition within about six weeks," says Campus Wide Extended Studies director Carley Ries, "and then we ended up having a nice audience, so that was good." Weekend University students arrive to a less congested campus, get close parking that's free, and have condensed courses lasting just 10 weeks.
Other schools have expanded their hours generously.
"We offer classes from 6 a.m. 'til 10 p.m," says Everest College's manager of student services, Diane Dillinger. "Our two-year degree programs give students the choice of coming to classes during the day, or coming to classes in the evening.
At the New Geneva Theological Seminary here in town, most classes take place in the evening hours — making it a non-traditional school. The scheduling was intentional, to make classes appealing to students and faculty alike.
For Armed Forces members needing assistance in finding just the right educational opportunity, GI Jobs, a national publication, compiles a list of the institutions considered "military-friendly." This honor ranks the top 15 percent of all colleges, universities and trade schools nationwide.
"Veterans can now enroll in any school, provided they're academically qualified," says Rich McCormack, GI Jobs publisher. "So schools are clamoring for them like never before."
Colorado State University-Pueblo in Colorado Springs made GI Jobs' cut, as did UCCS, CTU, Nazarene, DeVry University, IntelliTec Medical Institute, Pikes Peak Community College, Regis University and Troy University at Colorado Springs.
By the way, don't assume that just because our men and women are in foreign lands that their classes will be exclusively online. At CSU-Pueblo in Colorado Springs, program manager Barbara Borland says, "It's more paper-based, but the Army really almost requires that, due to the fact that you can't be guaranteed that you're going to be able to be online in Afghanistan at two in the morning."
So there's no rest even for the war-weary. Preoccupied defending your country overseas, soldier? See military-friendly schools, and thank you.
As for the rest of us: Not within traveling distance of a school? Phooey; online classes. Work all week, mate? Nice try; night and weekend classes. Too good for Colorado schools? Oxford University extension course — and, um, I don't think we can be friends anymore.