Academic journal article Community College Review

ERIC Review: Exploring the Meaning of "Nontraditional" at the Community College

Academic journal article Community College Review

ERIC Review: Exploring the Meaning of "Nontraditional" at the Community College

Article excerpt

This review of literature raises the issue of whether the term nontraditional is too broad to be helpful in identifying specific student needs at a community college because of the number of students who fit the definition. The review presents research and suggestions using these definitions, highlighting the characteristics of the community college student population and programs developed within the community college to address them. Additionally, it reflects on the limitations of using a single term to encompass such a diverse group of students and explores alternative ways to research unique populations.

**********

Community colleges are well known for serving diverse populations. Pascarella and Terenzini (1998) refer to "the richly diverse but nontraditional students who attend them" and describe community colleges as consisting of "disproportionate numbers of non-resident, part-time, older, non-white, and working class students"(p. 155). Given the degree of diversity within the community college student population, institutions must have a clear understanding of the challenges that their students face as well as ways to address these issues through programs and policies. Research on nontraditional students helps to illuminate issues and programs relevant to the diverse community college student population. However, a closer look at this research on nontraditional students in community colleges leads to two interesting conclusions: (1) at least three distinct definitions have been used by researchers and policymakers to identify the nontraditional community college student population, and (2) cumulatively, these definitions include the majority of students within the community college. This realization raises the issue of whether the term nontraditional is too broad to be helpful in identifying specific student needs at a community college because of the large number of students fitting within the definitions of nontraditional.

In much of the literature, the term nontraditional refers to students who are age 25 or older, but it has also been defined using the background characteristics or risk factors of the students. This review will present research and suggestions that have been generated using all three definitions, highlighting the characteristics of the community college student population and programs that have developed within community colleges to address them. In addition, this review will reflect on the limitations of using a single term to encompass such a diverse group of students and will explore alternative ways to research unique populations within the community colleges.

The Community College Student Population

Community colleges enroll almost one half of all undergraduates in the United States each fall. Not surprisingly, students attend community colleges to pursue a variety of educational objectives, including academic transfer, vocational-technical education, remedial and continuing education, and community service. Approximately one half of all African-American, Native-American, and Hispanic college students are enrolled at a community college. The student population consists primarily of commuter students, and a large percentage of students attend part time. Almost one half (46%) of first-time entrants into community colleges enroll part-time, compared to 11% of first-time students attending public four-year institutions. Thirty-five percent of first-time entrants in community colleges work full time compared to 11% in the public four-year institutions (NCES, 1998). The rise in the number of part-time students in community colleges can be attributed to many factors, including the increase in students who are employed, the increase in women attending college, and a decline in 18-year-old students (Cohen & Brawer, 1996). In fact, 46% of the community college student population is 25 or older, and the average student age in the community college is 29 (AACC, 2000). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.