Ohio’s Degree Attainment Goals Will Be Met with First-Generation College Students and Adult Learners
In higher education, we’ve long categorized students as either traditional or non-traditional. A traditional student enters college straight out of high school, is dependent on his or her parents, attends two consecutive years for an associate’s degree or four years for a bachelor’s degree and enters the workforce by the age of 23, unless of course, they enter a graduate program. They are full-time students and typically live on campus.
Non-traditional students are students over the age of 25, those who experience life before going to college, or who take a longer path towards earning their degrees – stopping out at intervals to earn enough money to support themselves and pay for their education. They may be part-time, picking up classes when they can fit them into their schedules.
Other than their age, the majority of students at Shawnee State University have never fit the definition of a “traditional” student. Almost 7 out of every 10 students at Shawnee State are the first in their families to go to college. They are often self-reliant, hold jobs while in school, and take a longer path toward graduation. The majority of our students are commuters. Many are adults, veterans, and those seeking a second career.
As demographics in our state and nation continue to change, so is our concept of traditional students — and more importantly, the type of student we need to attract and serve to fuel a 21st century economy. In Ohio, the number of high school students is shrinking, with a steady decline in this population over the next decade. At the same time, the state has recognized the need to significantly increase the number of college graduates in Ohio to meet the workforce demands of today — and tomorrow.
If our number of traditional-age students is decreasing, this growth will come from adult learners — veterans with military skills and training, working adults who may have some credits toward a degree that they earned years ago before “life happened,” or displaced workers who need to gain computer skills and additional education to meet the changing high-tech needs of growing companies. It will also come from first-generation college students who are pioneers in their families — determined to overcome potential barriers to earning degrees that will lead to rewarding careers.
We are investing in programs and services at Shawnee State that better serve the needs of our “non-traditional” students to earn their degrees and reach their goals. We have increased the number of online courses we offer and are looking at ways to offer more complete degrees in a full online format. We are looking at ways to
provide more flexibility in our programs to accommodate working professionals. We have developed and enhanced services throughout academics and student affairs to help students succeed, expanded scholarships and enhanced financial aid to help more students afford a college education, and implemented new processes to make the business of being a student easier.
Meeting the needs of the next generation includes a focus on the growing and changing needs of business and industry — and careers of the future. I thank our regional and state leaders for understanding the role that higher education plays in strengthening our economy and our business partners for working with us to better understand their workforce needs.