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Non-traditional students play major role on campus

April 25, 2014

Angie Devine has held many jobs in her life, including being a truck driver, factory worker, telemarketer, baker and sports writer, among other things.

Devine, like many other non-traditional students, set out to change her career path and enroll in college classes.

“I think coming to UWRF is probably the best decision I’ve made,” Devine said. “I feel like I’m reinventing myself.”

Devine is not alone. Older students are attending college in record numbers. Students age 25 and older make up a large part of the nation’s undergraduate students at 38 percent, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2019, these numbers are projected to increase by another 23 percent.

Nearly 700 non-traditional students attend UW-River Falls, according to UW-System data. While they represent only 12 percent of the student population, they all play different roles on campus. Like all other students, they have particular needs and concerns.

“It is important for non-traditional students to find a niche where they fit in and forge lasting friendships,” said Alice Reilly-Myklebust, director of Student Health and Counseling Services.

Devine is similar to a number of other college students who attend classes at UWRF. Both are involved on campus and call UWRF home. She is just like any other college student who dreams of landing the perfect job. While her college experiences are largely comparable to other students, there are also some differences.

“Non-traditional students add diversity our student body,” Reilly-Myklebust said. “Everyone is mixed together on our campus and it important to be welcoming.”

Like a number of other non-traditional students, the age differences between Devine and her classmates make it hard for her to relate to classroom discussion at times and technology was a barrier for her when she first attended class.

“It’s difficult to relate to young students,” Devine said. “Things like Skype were science fiction when I was their age. Most of my classmates are younger than my sons.”

Mark Huttemier is a student mental health counselor on campus who provides support to all students, including non-traditional students making the transition to college life.

“It is good for traditional students to keep an open mind,” Huttemier said.

Matthew Hobbs, a student at UWRF, said that the University could host more programs on campus that cater to all age groups, including older students. This year he has advocated to make these types of programs happen and said he thinks forming a non-traditional student organization on campus would be a great way for students to get engaged.

“Having a non-traditional organization would be a great asset to campus,” Hobbs said.

Devine’s involvement on campus as a member of Active Minds club and Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice club has inspired her to think about creating this type of organization. She said she hopes the new organization will give non-traditional students a chance to socialize and provide support to each other.

Overall, Devine said that her experiences at UWRF have been largely beneficial and her vast array of life experience has equipped her for college.

While one might say she is a jack of all trades, her true passion is developing an understanding of the criminal mind. Devine, a senior double major in psychology and sociology, aspires to attend graduate school and later practice prison psychology.

She, like many other students, has found support through approachable professors and supportive friends.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Devine said.