Last Updated: October 22, 2021, 11:00 am

OPINION | Dixie State University not equipped for non-traditional students


Many non-traditional students feel stressed having to balance going to school while having a full-time job or a family to take care of. Writer Kristi Shields proposes some ways that DSU could offer more help to non-tradtional students. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Dixie State University needs to provide more support to its non-traditional students.

Non-traditional students are those who meet any of seven categories: Delayed enrollment into postsecondary education, part-time college student, full-time worker, is financially independent for financial aid purposes, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma.

It’s also often any individual over the age of 25 is considered a non-traditional student, which, according to a Daily Advertiser article, is 74% of students who are currently enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States. In fact, non-traditional students now outnumber those who traditionally start college out of high school with the help of their parents, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Considering how common it is for universities to have non-traditional students, DSU should have more programs in place to accommodate these students and help them finish their degrees in a timely manner.

I am a full-time student with a 5-month-old baby. Finishing school has not been easy due to the lack of class times in my major (media studies), specifically the lack of multiple sections for a class, time of day/days of the week, and online options.

My major classes usually only offer one time and day option. There is no variability as to what day and time classes are available, so if I can’t find a babysitter who can watch my baby for an hour and 15 minutes in the afternoon, I can’t take the class. There are rarely online options for my media studies classes and zero nighttime options.

The communication studies classes I take for my minor are easier to work with because each of the classes has an online option if I can’t fit the in-person time slot into my schedule. General education classes are also offered online and have several time options, some even nighttime options.

Rhiannon Bent, media studies department chair and professor, said since media studies is a small major — only consisting of 80 students — most classes only need one section. It basically comes down to the history of enrollment and if there is a professor to teach the class.

With this in mind, it makes sense a smaller major does not have a plethora of options for class times; however, DSU should have additional options for the non-traditional students who may be held back due to the lack of options.

My husband has been a non-traditional student far before we had a baby; he is almost 26 years old and has had a full-time job since he started college five years ago. For the majority of his college experience, he has had to work the graveyard shift because that’s the only way he could take classes, but when our baby was born, he got a new position at the company so he could be home more to help with the baby. The tradeoff was that he couldn’t finish school at DSU. His adviser told him the only way to finish school is to quit his job, which obviously is not an option. Now, he is going to transfer to Western Governors University, an exclusively online university, to complete his remaining credits.

DSU should have more class time and day options for students to choose from so if the one time offered doesn’t work, then instead of continuing to put off the class until it will work, they can pick the one that will work best with their schedule.

Bent mentioned the Degree Completion Program where students who have their associate degrees can take a class one night per week and complete one course per month (each class is four weeks), and they graduate with a bachelor’s in 18 months.

This sounds like a great opportunity to help out non-traditional students, but so far, it is only offered for 5 majors: Nursing, health administration, communication studies, enterprise management and technology innovation.

Since I only have one more semester left, I am doing everything I can to finish these classes, but if I wasn’t so close to graduating, I would likely transfer to WGU or a different university that has better options for classes.

My other struggle is professors not being more understanding about missing class; however, this is not the case with all professors. I had to miss one of my chemistry lab days because my babysitter canceled and I could not find a replacement. I knew a week in advance, so I talked to my professor hoping I could work something out to make up the points. She told me there was nothing she could do because it was not an excused absence, which includes COVID quarantine and a student-athlete missing class for a sporting event. 

Me not having someone to watch after my child is not excused but an athlete can go to a game and be excused? How is that fair? Professors should be there to help their students gain the most out of their education, and they always say to talk to them about any troubles we’re having, but then I go to a professor for help and I’m turned away.

In this situation, a campus day care or drop-in center would be highly beneficial to student parents, but DSU is the only public university in Utah that doesn’t have this option. 

I am pleased to have found out the university created an On-Campus Child Care Working Group in spring 2021 consisting of students, faculty and staff to look into child care options for the university.

In the meantime, professors should take this into consideration when it comes to attendance for their classes, as long as the student is proactive in communicating with the professor about any issues regarding childcare.

Non-traditional students should be given more assistance in finishing their degrees because they have different needs than traditional students do.

DSU should offer the Degree Completion Program for more majors or at least provide non-traditional students with more support, such as advisers keeping track of who their non-traditional students are and checking in on them every semester and assisting them with any issues they may have with completing their required classes.