Nontraditional students increase on campus

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    Earning a degree will be a personal triumph for Sharra Blair-Kucera.

    Blair-Kucera’s high school guidance counselor told her she was too stupid to attend college after she struggled in a math class. After working and raising a family of five, her husband told her to chase her dream because she was the “smartest woman he knew,” she said.

    “When I got an A in my first college class, an algebra class, I wanted to call my high school guidance counselor and tell her, ‘You were wrong,’” Blair-Kucera said.

    Her children, many of whom are in college or graduated, didn’t think much about her returning to college while she was attending Hill College, a community college in Cleburne.

    “But when my TCU letter came in the mail, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room,” Blair-Kucera said.

    More and more nontraditional college students like Blair-Kucera are coming to TCU, said Anne Holder, president of the Transfer Student Advisory Board. A senior early childhood education major, Holder is a nontraditional student herself.

    This fall, 4.9 percent of students currently enrolled at the university are non-traditional, Holder said. The university classifies students who are over 25, married, veterans, or have children as nontraditional.

    “When I first came in, there were about 200 nontraditional students,” Holder said. “Now, there are a little over 400.”

    First generation college student John Howard, a senior geology major, worked as a bartender for years before deciding to return to school. Getting out of the rut motivated him to attend college.

    “It’s not a career,” he said, referring to his previous job as a bartender. “You can’t do it forever, and you want to do better for your kids.”

    Going to school full time affects family life. Howard and Blair-Kucera said they have less time for their families because of studying.

    “All of my kids have learned how to cook,” Blair-Kucera said.

    But Howard’s family puts his workload in perspective.

    “It’s a sacrifice for sure. My kids, when I see them, I have to tell them I have to do homework,” he said. “It’s hard, but in the end, it will be better for them.”

    Junior geology major Blake Warwack took a few community college classes before joining the Marine Corps reserves in 2010. He kept taking classes before being deployed, but once he left active duty, he felt it was time to attend a “real university” and finish his degree, he said.

    His time in the Corps changed his perspective on his education, he said.

    “A lot of people probably change their major all the time,” Warwack said. “I know I did. Early on, I changed my mind a lot.”

    Associate history professor Todd Kerstetter said he started noticing an increase in nontraditional students about five years ago. For the first 10 or so years he taught at the university, he said nontraditional students were rare, about one a semester. Now he says it isn’t uncommon to have one or more in each class.

    Kerstetter said he fist noticed the change nontraditional students brought to his classes after he taught a class made up of about 20 percent nontraditional students.

    “It was one of the best classes I’ve taught,” Kerstetter said. “I started asking myself, ‘What was going on that I’m going to class not thinking this is a job but am excited to go to class?’ Then it dawned on me that there were a lot of nontraditional students.”

    These students always contributed to the discussion and asked questions that challenged him to rethink the material, he said.

    “Particularly with history, it is a good thing to have people with some mileage because, as you get older, you get better at understanding history,” he said.