Last Updated: December 21, 2017, 3:58 pm

Nontraditional Students at DSU face challenges, find success


Deciding to return to school as a nontraditional student can be a difficult decision and can pose challenges that are not in place for the traditional student. 

According to National Center for Education Statistics, a nontraditional student by definition is considered to be a student over the age of 24 years old. 

About half of college students today are nontraditional students and 25 percent of those students are over the age of 30, according to nprED

“I was hesitant at first about going back to school,” said Rob Gray, the writing center coordinator. “I had to get my confidence up. It’s just a matter of doing it with confidence and jumping right in; you pick it up really quickly.”

Gray said he had children and was married when he went back to school and felt he had more familial and financial obligations than a traditional student.   

“I had to take out student loans and grants just like any other student and had to live kind of lean just like a traditional student would,” Gray said. “I had not gone to school for 20 some odd years and my financial obligations had changed over the years.” 

As an instructor, he loves to see a nontraditional student in class, Gray said.

“I think we see the difficulties that they have which are different than the traditional students,” Gray said. “I try to go out of my way to help those types of students.”

If you’re trying to go back to school after any time gaps between education, then it’s important to jump right into school and to not let a lack of confidence hold you back, Gray said. 

“It’s tougher coming to school as a nontraditional student,” said David Nelson, 50, a junior media studies major from St George. “I have similar financial concerns as a traditional student. I have financial aid to help me pay for college, I work and go to school.” 


Working and interacting with the traditional students can be tougher than working with nontraditional students, Nelson said. Traditional students have a tendency to stick to their own age group.

“[Traditional students] try to push you away because of being the same age as their parents,” Nelson said. “They think you’re going to be pushy with them so they pull away.”

James Stone, 56, a senior communication major from San Diego, said he returned to school because he tried to find work with an associate degree but no one was hiring.

“They keep raising the academic standard for employment and it is a given that you need at least a degree to be hired in a good job,” Stone said. “There are more nontraditional students who have come back to school because of the academic standard.”

Stone said he feels like he interacts as necessary with traditional student classmates, but he would not consider them to be peers.

“My classmates and I are well aware of the age gap,” Stone said. “I am old enough to be their father.”

Stone said that the required math and English courses at Dixie State University were one of the biggest challenges due to the changes that have been made in these programs since he attended elementary school. 

“Never stop learning,” Stone said. “When you get older, it is important to keep your brain intact, so I am here to try to remain sharp.”

According to the Institutional Accountability and Research department at Parkland College nontraditional students generally, have a higher overall GPA and have returned to college to further their career goals.

Gray said that despite the different challenges a nontraditional student may have, fast-tracking the education process and learning to work with different age ranges was a good experience for him and he would encourage any nontraditional student to take the challenge.