Many non-traditional students or adult learners on campus have to juggle school, work and parenthood in addition to the stress that comes with their classes.
On campus, Charissa Richters, 44, is an adult learner who is a linguistics major and an orientation leader. But at home, Richters is the mother of two teenage children. She decided to come back to school in order to get a job to support her family after her recent divorce.
Stony Brook University defines an adult learner as an undergraduate student who is older than 25.
According to a study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 38 percent of all college students are over the age of 25. This study looked at the enrollment trends of adult learners from fall 2009 to fall 2011 at more than 3,300 universities.
Emily Resnick, a senior adviser at Commuter Student Services, explained these adults come back to school for a variety of different reasons, but they are all seeking a bachelor’s degree.
Non-traditional students work around Stony Brook’s class schedule because of their other responsibilities aside from classes.
“Last summer I worked for the orientation program, and it was kind of weird when I decided to apply for it because I’m 44 and I have two teenagers, but I needed a summer job,” Richters said. She needed the position because she had to quit her previous part-time job after transferring to SBU from Suffolk County Community College.
“Once I applied for the position it opened up a whole world of opportunities and just things I did not know about student life,” Richters said. “That’s when I decided I should start something for non-traditional students because we don’t really participate in campus activities and student life.”
In the summer of 2012, a non-traditional orientation program was started to make adult learners feel more comfortable during the college adjustment process.
Many adult learners such as Richters questioned their choice to go back to college when taking part in activities that discussed social issues such as binge drinking.
The experience of being an orientation leader prompted Richters to start a club where adult learners could connect. She approached Resnick to ask her to be the faculty adviser for the Non-Traditional Student/Adult Learner Association.
Resnick has worked at SBU for the past six years and has always been a strong advocate for non-traditional students.
The association began last semester with the goal of providing a place where students could come for support from other students in similar situations and offers adult learners an opportunity to get involved in student life, which is something many would not do on their own.
In the undergraduate program at SBU, there are 1,400 adult learners. However, 1,400 is a small percentage of the overall undergraduate student population.
“Finding ways to reach out to that population specifically has been a welcomed challenge, not a challenge in a bad way, but we are trying to find different ways to reach out to our non-traditional students,” Resnick explained.
The executive board of the association utilizes social networking as a way to spread the word about their group. The Non-Traditional Student/Adult Learner Association has its own pages on both Facebook and Blackboard. Information is also sent out to them via email.
Even though the association is just in the beginning stages, Resnick believes that the future possibilities are endless.
“If they apply for a budget going forward, there are opportunities to do more programming, events with family involved, groups outings to performing arts or athletic events,” Resnick said. “There is a lot of opportunity to not only program but also advocate and it’s really just a matter of building the group up.”
March 6, Correction: In the original story published on Monday, Feb. 25, the Non-Traditional Student/Adult Learner Association was referred to as the Adult Learner Association.