Non-traditional vs. Traditional students: It is time to bridge the gap


Cindy Mills Photography

Brittany Hively, executive editor, and family prior to her winter 2019 graduation from Marshall University.

College campuses across the country use the terms “traditional” and “non-traditional,” referring to the age of students. Non-traditional tends to be 24 years old and up, while traditional is those right out of high school.   

This term is also used for students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  

However, with changes in the economy, culture and in general, each generation- this term has become archaic, and it is time we retire it. 

More and more students are working their way through college because their parents simply cannot afford to put them through. Many homes are now working off a two-person income just to make ends meet; adding in thousands of dollars a year for one child is not plausible for them.   

The traditional age for the FAFSA hurts these students and others who have no additional help from their parents by requiring traditional students to claim their parent’s income to determine their family’s contribution.   How many students who would thrive in college skip out because of this?   

We are no longer in a cookie-cutter, one-size fits all world. Not everyone is cut-out to attend higher education, and not everyone is cut-out to do a trade job. With that in mind, not everyone is cut-out to attend universities right out of high school.   

There are a plethora of reasons that may keep these students from being “traditional” beyond just the FAFSA. Reasons from home situations to health conditions to personal life and more.   

Whatever the reason may be, these students often find themselves seeking higher education later in life. They may have children and their own families by then. They may be searching for a career change. They may be just seeking to be better educated.  

Are we keeping them from pursuing these things because of a label? Are we missing the mark by not including themselves in our target audience?   

As a “non-traditional” student with her own family, who never had the opportunity to be a “traditional” student due to outdated FAFSA requirements for parent involvement, I think we are excluding so many. Even when the student has cut ties at 18 years old, the same rules apply. 

I graduated with my bachelor’s at 29 years old, and now at 30, I am working towards a master’s degree. I have loved every bit of being “non-traditional.”   

My children have been able to experience the journey with me. I don’t feel like I have missed out on anything the other students do. I have made lifelong friends. I have learned so much from the generations below me, and I hope in some way they have learned from me too.   

Going after those degrees is the best decision I have made, and I would hate to think someone is missing out because of their fear of being “non-traditional” or because the timing just was not right.   

I hate to see fellow students struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of financial aid because of their parent’s income. I would hate for people who could flourish with higher education to miss out due to this thinking.   

Are the terms necessary? Not that I see.   

Will the world end if we retire these ancient terms and rules? Or, would we see more people getting a chance to follow their dreams, less stress from students negatively affected by the rule and a more positive attitude towards bringing generations together? Anything is possible.   

When it comes down to it, we are all students working towards doing something we are passionate about, something we love and changing the world for the better.   

Tradition is great, but sometimes it is time for tradition to change, and in this case, it is as simple as some terminology.