Some students go to college right after graduating high school, but not all students share that path. Some return to higher education later in life.
While seeking their degree, Temple University students older than 24 bring a unique perspective to the university, but also face challenges that come with being a non-traditional student.
Non-traditional students are most often defined by being older than 24 years old. These older adult students have different responsibilities than younger students, like family and work obligations that can interfere with their education, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Stephanie McCullough, a 32-year-old legal studies major, was a restaurant manager for eight years after receiving an associate’s degree in business from the Community College of Allegheny. She is finishing her bachelor’s at Temple now and is on track to go to law school.
“It just took me a little longer than it takes some people,” she said.
Having a different full-time job has made it difficult for McCullough to get involved on Main Campus beyond attending her classes.
“I think back to 10 years ago and I think, ‘Why didn’t I do this then?’ Because I had so much more energy,” she added.
Amanda Parker, a 31-year-old part-time advertising student at Main Campus, attended Delaware County Community College and the Community College of Philadelphia, taking time off in between to work.
“Because I was an older student, going back to school [full-time] was never really an option for me,” Parker said. “I had to pay bills. I had to work. I had to take care of myself, so dropping everything to go to school just kind of wasn’t an option for me.”
Parker came to Temple in 2015 as an engineering major, but switched out because of the program’s time commitment.
“I find with advertising I can really make it work with my schedule,” Parker said. “Engineering was not older student friendly.”
McCullough said she would like Temple to develop an organization for people who don’t fit the description of a typical 18- to 22-year-old living on campus.
“I feel like we’re a forgotten sector,” she said.
Temple had a non-traditional student union, but it is not listed on OwlConnect, Temple’s website for student organizations. Alumnae Jamie Gautheier, Syreeta Martin and Haniyyah Sharpe established the club in 2010 and hosted National Non-Traditional Student Week in November 2011 to celebrate older students, The Temple News reported.
Temple’s website for its branch campuses has an “adult learners” page that outlines specific resources for older students at Ambler Campus, Harrisburg Campus and Center City Campus.
Greg Wechsler, a 30-year-old biology major, returned to higher education after taking a nine-year break. He went to Valley Forge Military Academy and College for a year and served in the Navy. Then he pursued a career in sales and business development before starting a pre-med track at Main Campus this semester.
“My parents always said, ‘You need to either be a doctor or a lawyer. You have the brains to do that,’ and I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s do it.’” Wechsler said. “Temple is close by, it was just an easy choice for me to pick Temple.”
Wechsler said he’s had trouble with his school materials, like textbooks, being almost exclusively online.
“It would be pretty cool if they had [something] like the transfer seminar you have to take, and add in a way to navigate each of these online portals for accessing your textbook and doing your homework and tips and tricks,” Wechsler said.
Temple offers a “Navigating Temple’s Online Systems,” on its branch campuses website to help students use Temple’s online systems, like TUportal, Canvas, email, among others.
Wechsler said no one pointed him to these resources and instead found another older student in his first few days on campus who showed him how to navigate things like TUportal and wireless internet.
Although they come from different backgrounds, McCullough, Parker and Wechsler said they have learned from their younger peers, while also sharing their own perspectives.
“I’ve had conversations with people who say, ‘Oh, I’m 22, and I’m not graduating until next year. I’m a semester late or a year late,’” McCollough said. “I’m like, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. There’s plenty of time.’ I don’t think I’ll be done with my schooling until I’m 35, at this point.”