Brittany and Jason Cowley are spending time with their three children. The pandemic brought on a sudden decision for the couple to return to college to get their degrees. Photo courtesy of the Cowleys.
When you picture college students, you might envision bright-eyed 18-years-olds taking notes in class by day and living their best lives being young, wild and free by night.
While that may be true for a small chunk of college students, the reality is that non-traditional students are the unsung heroes of campus — balancing a learning disability, prioritizing a career, or even raising a family at home all while navigating their way through the college life at Dixie State University.
Janet Walker, senior Student Support Services academic adviser and learning specialist, said: “Students of all walks of life face the challenge of balancing school responsibilities with family life and work. Non-traditional [or returning adult] students add a variety of additional challenges to that list.”
A typical day for Jason Cowley, a freshman sports and recreation management major from Pleasant Grove, is waking up early to make lunches for his family, then driving his 13-year-old daughter to school before commuting to his own classes at DSU.
He and his wife Brittany Cowley, a freshman art major from Port Arthur, Texas, are not your traditional college students.
The couple decided to return to DSU to earn their degrees as middle-aged adults, balancing raising their family and other responsibilities within their home with their new journey to gain a college education.
Jason Cowley is currently enrolled in 16 credits and has back-to-back classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He spends those days running from one class to the next and barely squeezing in lunch and homework between his busy schedule at school and home.
He said although his days are filled with his love for DSU and an appreciation for the university lifestyle and culture, there are definitely drawbacks to being a non-traditional student.
“For instance, it was over five weeks into the semester before another student actually even spoke to me,” Jason Cowley said. “I get it, middle-aged white guy is not the most popular demographic right now, but things got pretty lonely there for a bit.”
Ironically, Brittany Cowley was immediately welcomed by her ceramics classmates who have now become her friends.
Brittany Cowley said: “My classes feel like a family to me. We help each other out and cheer each other up when things go wrong — like a pot falling on the ground after working on it for days.”
She said she was initially intimidated about returning to college because she was worried about being ostracized by her peers because of her age, not being able to remember things quite so easily, or being incapable of figuring out how school works these days.
The Cowley’s are not only attending DSU together as a couple, but also with their eldest son who is currently studying biology. Their other son will also be attending DSU in the fall and plans to major in mechanical engineering.
Jason Cowley has been in the professional workforce for over 20 years as a managing editor of a motion picture studio and in software product management. He said it was a tremendously hard decision to make about transitioning his lifestyle and returning to college.
“If COVID-19 had not forced my company to lay me off and then prevented me from being able to land a new position, I doubt that I would have done it,” Jason Cowley said.
Brittany Cowley said the original plan for her family was to move to St. George for her eldest son and husband to attend DSU together, but as soon as the family moved, she had an impression that she needed to join them as well.
“That inspiration has changed my life; I didn’t realize that I’d have such a passion for learning and creating,” Brittany Cowley said. “Being here, experiencing college life with my spouse and son — soon to be two sons — really is bonding.”
The couple instantly mentioned how TRiO has been a major resource and key component to their success at DSU.
Valerie Housley, associate Student Support Services academic advisor and tutoring coordinator, said: “TRiO is a support system for students. We help navigate their college experience, so when they have a question, they come to us and we connect them with the resource they need. We do a lot more in-depth type of advising in our program and help them work through their fears and struggles.”
TRiO helped the couple learn how to work apps and essential DSU websites like Canvas and My Dixie. The resource also helped the Cowleys register for classes and find scholarships to apply for, Brittany Cowley said.
“Without Jonathan Morrell, [director of Student Support Services], and the TRiO program, I am not sure I would have made it through my first semester,” Jason Cowley said.
He said many people don’t understand that coming back to school as a middle-aged adult has a learning curve, and it’s a steep one.
“I literally had to learn how to ‘college,'” Jason Cowley said. “In fact, this May will mark 30 years since I graduated high school, and that was the last time that I attended school, took a test, did homework and so on.”
Though the couple leads a busy lifestyle and has experienced the setbacks of being non-traditional college students, they are happy with where they are and love being students again, Jason Cowley said.
“As hard as it was to get here, this is one of the best times of my life and it has really brought my family closer together than ever,” he said.