What KU has taught me about being a non-traditional student

By Dawn Heinbach

I was so ready to start at KU last fall. Like many other non-traditional students who transfer here, I had graduated from Reading Area Community College and was excited about the next step in my educational journey.

Even though I am older than most students — even non-trads — by many years, I had never felt out of place at RACC. Its student body is extremely diverse in ages, ethnic backgrounds and a whole host of other demographic identifiers. In addition, like most RACC students, I had excelled in my classes and extracurricular activities. I had no reason to believe that things would be more difficult at KU. But then I began to hear complaints from other non-trads who had transferred before me.

“The teacher never calls on me, even when I raise my hand.”

“The head of the department told me that I would never be able to handle the work load of my major because I am older and have kids.”

“One professor basically asked me what I’m doing here, I guess because of my age.”

“I didn’t feel welcome at all. I almost quit.”

What? This didn’t sound like the KU I had imagined. While I believe the experiences of those students, I also know that change is difficult for most people. At RACC, we had accomplished a lot. Professors and other students knew who we were. When we transfer, we start over again. People at KU don’t know what we’ve accomplished until we show them. I think that’s fair. This is my second semester here, and I have nothing negative to report. I love KU, and I think KU loves me.

One weird thing is that I am older than some of my professors. However, my first thought is not, “I am older than they are so I know more than they do.”

I learn new things from every professor whose class I have the honor of taking. I believe that my professors appreciate me in their classroom. For those who may have issues with non-trad students, I advise them to remember that we pay tuition and have just as much right to be here as anyone else.

Even though I know that the younger generation views someone my age as “really old,” I don’t think younger students look at me strangely or even pay attention to me being older – and if they do, so what? I am here to learn; I am here for me and no one else. I don’t feel old; my mind is very young. I appreciate all the people I meet and encourage other students, and professors as well, to value students of all ages in their classrooms. I know that I can learn just as much from a 19-year-old student as I can from a 39-year-old professor, and I would hope that they are open enough to view me in the same capacity.

Anyone who has the courage to attend and succeed at college – no matter the reason or their age – should be applauded and embraced with open arms.



Categories: Opinions

1 reply

  1. I love non-traditional students. They have experience, confidence in speaking up, and a wealth of knowledge to give to younger undergrads. I LOVE how they can push a class to be more outspoken and involved in their education. Maybe it’s MY age but I think they have a whole lot to offer.

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