A Non-Traditional Way of Learning

By Caitlyn McCreight

“I’ve always wanted to go back to school,” said Melissa Van Kooten, 35, and a senior in kinesiology and health. “But it is inherently different.”

If you have ever noticed an older looking student in one of your classes, chances are, they could be a non-traditional student, simply meaning they aren’t fresh out of high school.

The College of Human Sciences Adult Non-Traditional Students (ANTS) learning community defines a “non-traditional” student as someone who is 25 years old and over or someone who commutes, is married, has children or was in the military. Ages can range from 21 to 50 and above.

“Anything that is different than the 18 year old that graduates from high school and goes straight through for four years,” is considered a non-traditional student says Darlene Fratzke, the leader of the ANTS learning community for the College of Human Sciences.

The ANTS group has quite a history for only beginning in 1986 by Kay Holmberg, who worked in the student counseling office. Holmberg noticed a need for adult students to have a place that they could relate to other students and find campus resources more easily. That same year the offices of Adult Learner and Commuter Students opened under the guidance of Ellen Fairchild and Penny Rosenthal-Rice and by 1992, these two groups merged to form the Adult Non-Traditional Students (ANTS).

Currently, the only learning community for ANTS students is in the College of Human Sciences. The learning communities used to be offered to ANTS students from all colleges, but were cut due to budgets in the late 1990s.

Managing college can be difficult with daily classes, possible work, keeping up with studies and socializing. However, “there certainly can be unique challenges that are different than the traditional students,” says Kip Van Dyke, who is the Dean of Students and Director of Students.


(Provided by the College of Human Sciences, ANTS Blog) Melissa Van Kooten enjoys her lunch outside near central campus.

“I know I have to schedule my time. I can’t waste any time by not getting stuff done,” said Van Kooten. “It makes you more focused.”

A typical day for Van Kooten starts by getting up at 6:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast and lunch for her three kids. By 7:30 a.m. her two sons leave for school, while she wakes up her daughter and gets her to school by 8:30 a.m. This semester, Van Kooten is on campus from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m. every day, dedicating time in between classes to her studies.

Fratzke has met many students with child care issues, such as not being able to make it to class due to a sick child or having to schedule time around their children’s schedule.

“I do spend less time with my kids than what I use to,” says Van Kooten, who used to be able to go to all of her children’s events, now has to give up that time to focus on her studies. “It’s just part of the commitment that I have made.”

Managing a family and attending school can also leads to extra expenses, which can lead to budgeting money.

“Income can become a problem,” said Fratzke. If a student is coming back to school after already have been working for many years, taking out loans and managing a budget can be a challenge and a change.

Although these challenges can make things harder, non-traditional students are here for the same reason as any average college student; to get a degree.

Most ANTS students could either be getting their undergraduate, returning to college to finish a degree, get their master’s or have recently been in the military.

For Van Kooten, she knew her job as a massage therapist wouldn’t allow for her body to continue. And although it helped her as she began a family, she realized it wasn’t something she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

“It wasn’t challenging me in the way I wanted my career to,” said Van Kooten and with that conclusion, she felt her only option was to go back to school.

Van Kooten hopes that by getting into kinesiology and health, she’ll able to help people resolve their issues or even prevent them, rather than just maintaining them. “I want to be able to get to these people before things become a bigger issue,” said Van Kooten.

Aside from the personal challenges that ANTS students face, overcoming the diversity in class could be the most challenging.

“Learning is very different,” said Van Kooten, who had to adjust to her professor’s different way of teaching algebra. Though her way of doing it wasn’t wrong, she said it was still a challenge to overcome.

Fratzke has met with students who have had troubles with new technology as well. Since a majority of class work is based online, understanding the school’s databases can be hard to grasp.

Van Kooten also finds it a challenge to fit in. She understands that she is different and it can be hard to relate to the younger students in class.


(Provided by the College of Human Sciences, ANTS Blog) Non-Traditional student enrollment statistics from 2013

A study done in 2013 by the College of Human Sciences found that of the 27,659 students at Iowa State, 1,588 of them were non-traditional students. With a majority of them ranging from 25 to 29 years of age, there were 62 ANTS students that were 50 years of age and above.

The College of Human Sciences also says that, “Within six months of graduating, 92 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients and 96 percent of master’s and doctoral degree recipients secure employment or advanced educational placement.”

Although there is no specific statistic for non-traditional students after graduation employment rates, Fratzke believes that it would be higher for non-traditional students because they have past life experiences that they can draw from to help them succeed in their job.

With the ANTS program slowly becoming more aware to non-traditional students, Iowa State does offer them just as many resources as traditional students.

“The main thing is that they know we are here to help and answer questions for them,” said Fratzke. Being able to provide means for childcare, scholarships and even where to study are all resources ISU provides to non-traditional students.

“I think it’s the same they provide for any student,” said Van Kooten. She thinks the best thing to receive from her classmates and professors is just an open communication of understanding that she is inherently different.

“Each person is unique and may have unique strengths and challenges as they enter or re-enter ISU and we want to help them learn what is available to support them,” said Van Dyke.


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