Guest Contributor David Garza, Vice President, Careers and Computing, Cengage Learning

The definition of non-traditional students is varied and can include individuals with a variety of demographic characteristics ranging from age and gender to ethnicity and income. For this discussion let’s focus on a sub-set that has a common interest related to the “why” they are enrolled in higher education. The “why” is to gain employment in a job that earns a family sustainable wage. Who are these “non-traditional” students? They are low-skilled working adults, veterans, military spouses, low-income young adults, displaced workers and single parents.

This cohort has very different backgrounds, social needs and motivational reasons for enrolling in higher education versus their “traditional” student counterparts. Ensuring their academic success, persistence, and ultimately completion can be challenging if their background profile is not acknowledged at the time of enrollment. Typically these students have been away from class for extended periods of time and would benefit from additional services and curricula that help them adjust to today’s education environment and expedite their education and training resulting in a quicker route to employment. There are a number of promising practices being initiated on campus recognizing the unique needs of these students.

According to a recent article on, the Department of Veterans Affairs says 441,710 veterans and eligible beneficiaries are enrolled this fall in educational programs. Some college campuses, such as George Washington University and Lane Community College, are offering veteran friendly or veteran-only courses in which transitioning to student life from military duties is taken into account via incorporating familiar topics, examples, activities and discussions that contextualize the subject matter making course material more accessible to these students.

Many non-traditional students lack core academic skills to be successful and drop out prior to taking the career coursework for which they originally enrolled. To assist these students, select colleges are taking a career pathways approach in which basic skills such as reading and math are integrated into career-related curricula to keep students engaged as they pursue their coursework in their desired area of study. For example, math and reading skills may be developed through diagnoses work in an automotive shop where using manufacturer’s documentation and schematics are needed to troubleshoot and repair a problem.

With many employers with open positions for which skilled workers are in short supply, non-traditional students are a promising pipeline for future employees that could make instrumental contributions to the nation’s employers.

For more information regarding how Cengage Learning can provide integrated learning solutions that bridge the classroom to the workplace, please visit us here

What “non-traditional” students have you seen in your courses, or on your campus? How does your institution seek to serve these populations’ need for workforce training? Offer your feedback in the Comments section below.

Post Author: Tami Strang.