Never Too Late to Further Your Education


Local schools give nontraditional students the tools to succeed

Nontraditional students— typically defined as students age 25 and older, commuting at least 10 miles to campus, attending school part-time or full-time, retired or working, with or without children, married, single or divorced — are returning to school in droves. These students don’t take the “traditional path” of enrolling in college right out of high school. They are often referred to as adult learners, or re-entry students, and they’re realizing that now is the perfect time to return to school.

Patti Sorenson, 52, has four grown children, two grandchildren and loves to spend time with her family. She also enjoys spending time outdoors, working out at the YMCA, and cooking elaborate meals. That is, when she’s not doing her homework. Patti is a full-time student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. In May, she’ll graduate with a bachelor of science degree in education, grades kindergarten through eighth.

A typical day for Sorenson includes waking up at 4:30 a.m. so she can beat rush hour traffic and get to school by 6:45. She does four hours of service learning in a first grade classroom before returning to campus for classes and homework. On Wednesdays and Fridays she babysits her grandson before returning home for more homework.

“I’m usually doing schoolwork until 9 p.m., and I try to get to bed by 9:30,” she says. “At my age I can’t stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. doing my homework like a lot of the younger students can.”

Despite her demanding schedule (she’s carrying a load of 18 credits), Sorenson maintains a positive attitude. She’s reminded of the payoff every time she’s in front of a class of bright-eyed elementary students.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in sixth grade. I want to make a difference in childrens’ lives,” she says. “I might make a difference to only one child and I may never even know it, but that’s what makes everything worth it.”


Returning to school

Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that adult students are the fastest growing educational demographic, and these numbers are steadily increasing. In 1970, 28 percent of all college students were 25 years of age or older. In 1998 the number of adult learners had increased to 41 percent. The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE) reports that students who are over 25 make up as much as 47 percent of the new and returning student population on many of today’s college campuses.

Part of the appeal to many adults is access to online classes, offering convenient scheduling for busy lifestyles. Online classrooms give students the opportunity for more in-depth research and discussions, allowing them to absorb the information over a weeklong period. Students can learn any time, anywhere.

At Concordia University, St. Paul, “online education is making education available on a global level,” says Dr. Robert DeWerff, vice president for academic affairs. “A great example of these global connections is an online course taught by Dr. Chuck Nuckles, who recently moved to China for a teaching post. He now teaches from Shanghai with students located throughout the U.S.!”

Online learning has also made it possible for Concordia University students to continue their studies after being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“They often have been able to continue their studies even though they’re working in a war zone,” DeWerff says.

Attending an online course gives students a fair and level playing field, no matter where they live or how they learn. Since you don’t see your classmates or instructor, no judgments are made based on gender, race, ethnicity, physical appearance, or physical abilities. A deaf student attending Concordia University said that being part of an online cohort gave her the opportunity—for the first time in her educational career—to participate as fully as anyone else in class.

Contrary to popular belief, however, online learning is not easier than taking classes at a bricks-and-mortar institution.

Sticking to a regular routine of classes and deadlines can be preferable for students who might not have the self-discipline to complete an online curriculum at their own pace. And sometimes the Internet simply isn’t the right medium for certain classes.

The biggest difference between online and classroom learning, however, is the fact that online learners don’t interact face-to-face with classmates and professors.

“Online, students interact with their peers and instructor through postings and forums. For many people that is preferable. While in traditional courses, other students often look forward to the classroom’s energetic debates and eclectic mix of traditional-aged students, fellow adults, and the professor,” says Liz Turchin, associate director of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education.

Different strokes for different folks, depending on what the student is comfortable with.

“Commuting and scheduling aside, given the option of the same course either in the classroom or online, it often comes down to a person’s own learning environment preference,” Turchin comments.



Keys to success

At many colleges and universities, nontraditional students are given the tools they need to succeed, through financial aid, on-campus childcare options, full-time support services, tutoring, and compassionate, understanding staff and faculty.

At the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education, scholarships and financial aid are available through an easy application process.

Concordia University’s adult students learn in a cohort, a group of 15-20 students that stay together for the duration of the program. Cohort-based programs create an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their personal and professional challenges.

At the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the faculty is accustomed to working with adult learners. The university has an excellent history of student service—a full-time support personnel works only with distance education programs.

“An 800 number is available for students to call. We strive to make our campus system seamless to our students who take courses elsewhere,” explains Heidi Rabeneck, outreach program manager at UW-Stout.

Whenever possible, nontraditional students are encouraged to network with others.

“Many adults report that they learn almost as much from fellow classmates as they do from the instructor,” explains Turchin. “Our Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) students bring a wealth of knowledge to the classroom. The program helps connect adults through networking events. And for those adults who want a study-abroad experience but can’t afford to be away from work for very long, the program has developed courses featuring one week of intensive travel experience combined with pre-and post-travel meetings. Additionally, the program provides free writing tutor assistance to adults whose skills may have become rusty in the years since they finished their undergraduate degree.”

Even with support services in place, some nontraditional students are anxious about returning to school. They might worry about being able to keep up with technology, or feel uncomfortable with their younger classmates. After all, the life of an 18-year-old is dramatically different from the life of a 40-year-old. While younger students worry about finding their niche on campus, nontraditional students are worried about finding the time between classes and work and family to get the laundry done and finish two term papers (and hopefully find time for some sleep). Sometimes, the many roles conflict, and obligations can be very stressful.

Augsburg College student Patti Sorenson’s advice to adults considering going back to school is to make sure they can dedicate the time necessary to do the work. She suggests starting with a few classes and easing into a school routine. And she suggests never losing sight of the reason you chose to return to school.

She comments, “The long days, the mounds of homework, that will all be forgotten when I step into my very own classroom this fall and see that first smile from a student.”



1 The University of Minnesota’s

College of Continuing Education’s unique “create your own” bachelor’s and master’s degrees are perfect for adults. Adults work with advisers to plan out their degree’s course work, pulled from the U’s many Twin Cities campus colleges. Students have amazing access to a broad selection of coursework. The Master of Liberal Studies allows adults to combine varied interests into degrees. For more information, visit or call 612-624-4000.


2 The University of Wisconsin-Stout’s

Bachelor of Science in Management and Bachelor of Science in Information Communication Technologies (BSICT) provide degree completion opportunities for technical college graduates and those working in technical fields. Courses are taught by UW-Stout faculty. The BS Management curriculum provides a sequence of management courses along with concentrations in the service, business, and industrial areas. The BSICT curriculum provides a sequence of management courses along with emphasis areas in networking, media, and technical communications. Both programs allow students the flexibility to choose the track that best suits their personal and professional goals and are scheduled for working professionals. Classes are offered evenings and online. For more information, visit or or call 1-800-991-5291.

3 Concordia University, St. Paul

offers degree completion and graduate programs designed specifically for adult learners using state-of-the-art educational theories in adult learning. Students can complete the program in as few 15-24 months taking classes sequentially in online or in-class formats. Students become part of a cohort—a learning group of 15-20 students—who work together for the duration of their program. The cohort becomes a built in support system and allows students to build trusting, collaborative relationships that result in a high rates of student success and program completion. Students work with faculty who are experts in their fields, and academic advisors who are committed to supporting them from program start to completion. Undergraduate Degree Completion Programs: Organizational Management & Leadership, Information Technology Management, Innovation & Marketing Management, Human Resource Management, Criminal Justice, Public Safety & Security, Child Development, and Family Life Education. Graduate Programs: Business Administration, Organizational Management, Education, Christian Outreach, and Family Life Education. For more information, visit, call 651-641-8230 or 800-333-4705 or email

4 Augsburg’s

Masters of Business Administration degree is designed as a 21 month program offering opportunities to not only expand critical thinking and strategic skills, but to do so in an environment where theory is transformed into action. Students can leverage their intensive classroom experience into personal and professional achievement. Classes meet one night per week and learning is additionally supported through the availability of on-line support and resources. Students work in small teams on projects throughout the course curriculum and develop relationships; benefiting from these relationships the students form networks of associates with different experiences and expertise. The schedule is designed with the demands of busy working professional in mind while the curriculum is crafted to reflect today’s global workplace and rapidly changing markets. In the fall of 2007, Students will be able to choose from four different concentrations: Finance, Marketing, Human Resource Management and Health Care Management. Additionally, Graduate Business Certificate Programs in those disciplines as well as International management and Music Business Management are available. MBA cohorts begin classes in September, January and April. For program information Admission requirements and admission deadlines contact Nathan Gorr, Graduate Admissions at 612-330-1390 or E-mail at

Dr. Robert Kramarczuk, Director, has led Augsburg’s MBA program from its inception to its current position as one of the largest and most successful programs in the Twin Cities. Robert Kramarczuk is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and received his PhD from the Carlson School of Management. In addition to his academic experience, he has had extensive experience as an entrepreneurial businessperson.

Tips for Nontraditional Students

Manage your time effectively
Students need to be prepared to dedicate the time needed to learn. When taking an online course, it can be easy to procrastinate and surf the Internet instead of studying. Students need to be prepared to schedule time for their homework and studies and stick to it.

• Polish up your writing skills
Whether taking online courses or face-to-face classes, communication is essential. Good written communication skills come in handy whether emailing comments for online discussions or completing a ten-page philosophy paper.

• Embrace your life experiences
Experience is often the best teacher. Use it to your advantage.

• Ask for help when needed
When taking an online class, don’t be afraid to contact your instructor with questions or concerns. The same goes for taking a class at a college or university. Ask when you need help. That’s why your instructors are teachers. They want you to learn the material.

• Never lose sight of your goals
When the going gets tough, remind yourself why you decided to return to school. Post a message on the fridge for inspiration. Think of how proud you’ll feel when you have that degree in your hand, and how much your life will change—for the better—in the future.

Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning benefits adults, and that—in turn—benefits the community. At Collegeville Communities, the concept of lifelong learning is a win-win situation.

Collegeville Development Group specifically planned retirement communities to take advantage of college resources. Collegeville Communities are designed for active seniors who value the proximity and ease of access to the cultural and intellectual stimulation of a college campus, as well as the dynamics and opportunities of a university town. They are designed for persons over 55 who enjoy home ownership but who also appreciate membership in a housing association that performs many of the demanding responsibilities of home maintenance. Inherent in the Collegeville Communities concept is the idea of community itself; a key criterion for most people.

At University Village in Winona, Saint Mary’s University is right across the street. The village features single-family homes, townhomes, and cottages for sale. At least one adult in each household must be over 40, although the median age in this community is the high 60s. Unique elements include a concierge on the property, an exclusive arrangement with SMU for Collegeville residents to attend classes, use the health facilities, and receive campus discounts. Residents can also attend classes at nearby Winona State.

The second Collegeville Community, Village on the Canon, is located in Northfield. This development is more urban, featuring condominiums within three blocks of the downtown area and across from the Cannon River walking trail. Residents take classes at St. Olaf and can share their knowledge and experiences through a nonprofit learning program called Collegium.

“We promote our residents in remaining engaged with their immediate community of neighbors, and the greater community, including special interest groups and volunteering,” says Colleen Hollinger Petters, president of Collegeville Communities, a subsidiary of the Collegeville Development Group. “This results in creating circles of friends around you who are stimulating, engaging, and interesting, while you are offering something meaningful back—yourself and your life experiences.”

For more information, visit