Advising Non-Traditional Students and Study Abroad

nontraditionalstudentAs the demographics of American higher education continue to diversify, many colleges and universities are seeing an increase in enrollments of non-traditional students.  The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) outlines 7 points that help to define a non-traditional student as a student who:

·         Delays enrollment (does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school)

·         Attends part-time for at least part of the academic year

·         Works full-time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled

·         Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid

·         Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but may also be caregivers of sick or elderly family members)

·         Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents)

·         Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school)

Additionally, the NCES reports that the percentage increase in the number of students age 25 and over has been larger than the percentage increase in the number of younger students, and that this pattern is expected to continue (Source). Therefore, it is very likely that study abroad will see an increase in these types of students as well.  In the past five years I have worked in education abroad, I have continued to advise more and more non-traditional students who are interested in studying abroad.  Unfortunately, there do not appear to be many resources specific to this population.  Below I outline six considerations for advisers and study abroad offices working with non-traditional students.

1.  Ask them why they are interested in pursuing this opportunity

Ask this question of your typical 19-year-old college student and chances are you might hear a variation of “my friend went to Barcelona and said it was awesome” or “I want to travel and see new places.”  Not that these reasons aren’t worthy in their own right for pursuing the study abroad experience, however non-traditional students tend to be able to articulate their reasons for wanting to study abroad with more focus. This is very helpful to study abroad advisers as you can then work to connect them to the most appropriate program and funding resources. For instance, many non-traditional students might be coming back to school for a career change. Knowing this would then allow you to highlight my #2 point…

2.  Share internship abroad opportunities

In addition to possibly being back in school for the purposes of a career shift, non-traditional students typically come with prior work experience and skills that make them excellent candidates for internship abroad experiences.  What better way to help students ensure they are ready for the career change than ‘trying before buying?’  And whereas many study abroad programs will be overrun with younger traditional-aged students that may alienate older students, internship programs can be a great way to provide the independent study abroad experience non-traditional students may be looking for.

3.  Highlight short-term programs or countries where they can obtain a work visa

For many students, studying abroad represents a time of missed income.  Not only are students forking over large amounts of money for program fees, but many are taking a leave of absence from work.  This missed income is especially felt by non-traditional students who may have families or other dependents.  To help combat this issue have lists of short-term programs prepared so that way non-traditional students can easily find a program with a suitable duration.

As an alternative, highlighting those countries where it is legal or relatively easy for foreigners to obtain a work permit could at least allow motivated students to pick up a part-time job on the side to provide some income while abroad.  At the very least, helping students learn how to navigate consular websites for information on this matter can be very helpful!

4. Connect them to funding resources

Though we’re seeing more non-traditional students pursue study abroad, the fact is these students still represent a minority in the field.  Therefore, they may qualify for certain study abroad scholarships and grants that favor diversity.  Awards like the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program tend to favor not only diversity in terms of destination, but also in the types of students going abroad.  With the right program and purpose for choosing to go abroad, non-traditional students may be able to put together a compelling scholarship application for this and other funding opportunities.

5.  Have budget models in place to support backing out of unnecessary expenses

Non-traditional students may desire or need to travel with partners and/or children making program-provided housing otherwise unavailable.  Where possible, have budget models ready that support backing out of these unnecessary costs to help offset the cost the student will now incur for finding their own housing.  If working with local staff, offer areas that these students might search for lodging in order to be proximal to the rest of the group or class locations.

As a side note, if a student lets you know that they will be bringing a child abroad with them, it is important to have a conversation about the need for the student to have a support system in place.  For instance, what happens if the child becomes ill or is too young to be left alone?  Bringing an additional caretaker or the hiring of child care services in the host destination may be necessary.

6.     Connect them with other non-traditional students.

Perhaps the best resource you can provide non-traditional students is an opportunity to connect with other non-traditional students who have studied abroad.  Consider asking one of your non-traditional study abroad students to share their blog about their experiences while away and give that to prospective students to review.  Ask a student to start a Facebook group for this demographic of students.  Check your institution’s student organizations to see whether or not there is a student-led group for non-traditional students.  If there is, connect in with members and see if any of them have studied abroad. By building a campus network of returned non-traditional students, more of this population will feel empowered to pursue this opportunity.

Are you a non-traditional student that has studied abroad?  If so, we want to hear from you! Let us know about the challenges and solutions you found as well was what else you think would be helpful for study abroad offices to do to support other non-traditional students!