ASSIGNMENT 13: Return to the Classroom

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- For nearly two decades, 40% of the college population has been comprised of nontraditional students, that's according to the American Council of Education. But how does a student fall into this category?

The National Center for Education Statistics has seven characteristics that classifies a student as nontraditional.

1. Someone who puts off college after high school.
2. Attends college part-time
3. Works full-time
4. Is financially independent for financial aid purposes
5. Has dependents other than a spouse
6. Is a single parent
7. Does not have a high school diploma

In fact, 75% of all students have at least one of these characteristics. In our Assignment 13 report, Return to the Classroom WEAU's Courtney Everett explains how the nontraditional route is the new tradition for an entire family.

Move-in day is a common back to school ritual for college students. For 61-year-old Anita Matysik the ritual is a bit different. "I never had the opportunity to go to college I'm gonna take a little bit longer, because I'm old,” she says.

There are no dorms just time spent inside the classroom at the Chippewa Valley Technical College. Anita says, “I'm majoring in Administrative Professional, just a glorified secretary. I went from high school right to a factory job and because it paid pretty well in my area I stayed there."

After working at another company in Eau Claire, she says she was laid off in 2014. Now the light at the end of the tunnel isn't just her quick wit. Anita says, "My younger daughter decided she was going to come here and I think she was following us." Its her 23 and 27 year old daughters and 35 yr old son attending CVTC as nontraditional students too.

Ashley Matysik explains, "I'm going into nursing and looking into things beyond nursing. I like taking care of people and working in early childhood."

"When I left high school, I wasn't feeling that confident to enter college and we had some health issues with my dad,” says Lindsey Matysik. Although Lindsey and her brother say they were laid off from the same company, the Trade Act Program helped support their education which became a blessing in disguise.

Lindsey says, “We all support each other and talk about hey how'd you do on this. or if she has a question about Spanish. I took that class so I can help her too. Anita adds, "It's morale thing for me because my children are here and I don't want to do something horrible or get a horrible grade."

Like many nontraditional students, age Is one hurdle Anita is having to overcome. She says, "It was intimidating because the teacher goes, turn on your computer and I'm looking ok...uh oh I'm in trouble."

Academic Advisor Bonnie Isaacson at UW-Eau Claire says many times professors only recognize a nontraditional student based on age. She says, "A lot of our professors indicate that they appreciate having the older student in the classroom because they are very motivated and dedicated to their course work and they are willing to speak up and ask questions and the bring a different kind of enrichment in the classroom because of their life experiences."

Many agree its not just age, its balancing the teeter totter of life. On one side you have work and on the other side you have school which one outweighs the other?

Lindsey says, "Working while in school its very difficult because you have two sets of priorities. You have your employers priorities then you also your school priorities and your personal priorities too."

CVTC Outreach Specialist Gayle Ostermann says this is a common issue because 76% of CVTC students are part-time. She says, "When I work with adult students coming in I say if you've been out of school for a long time yeah let's take baby steps. Take a couple of classes and see what your study habits are like and how much demanding it is."

Lindsey says, "Now as an adult I have to say ok I work today and I also have to get this accomplished and it can be weird but its very manageable.

But in the end, it seems for the Matysik's its all worth it. Anita says, “The knowledge I've learned is in surpassing, because you know after you graduate in 1973, you have forgotten a few things."

Lindsey hopes to eventually get her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and like Ashley said she hopes to complete a degree in nursing. As for Anita, she plans to work for five more years, and might just decide to go to college and work part-time.

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