Nontraditional / Older Adult Support Services

Nontraditional / Older Adult Support Services briefing


What is an older adult student? Why are they nontraditional?
( University of Georgia — OWLs (Older Wiser Learners).

  • Traditional Definition of a Nontraditional Older Adult Student:
    25 years of age or older.
  • New views: Some have argued that the categorization
    of a student as an adult should be related to “life circumstances.” “People
    who are independent from their parents, people who have competing responsibilities
    such as work and family and community involvement—these people are
    adult learners regardless of their age.” (Tate)

OSU undergraduate students who are 25 years of age or older — 1,746

OSU’s oldest undergraduate student — 78

Eleven percent of OSU undergraduate students are nontraditional older adults.


  • Higher Education has had an adult student presence since the late 1800’s
  • Increase in Older Adult Students.
    From 1971 to 1991, adult students increased nationwide from 28% to 43%.
  • Women make up a larger percentage of adult students than men.
    From 1970 to 2000, female adult enrollments have increased by 59.2 percent
    while male adult enrollments have increased by 40.8 percent.

Multiple Roles and Success

  • Focus learning on skills and knowledge that are applicable to life circumstances
  • Have a complex knowledge base due to age
  • Are involved with families, communities, and careers
  • Interact with faculty and peers without being ostracized

Functions of Nontraditional – Older Adult Support Services

  • Information on financial aid and admissions programs that orient students
    to campus
  • Information on child care, housing, and community resources
  • Resources to help develop familiarity with computers, math, writing, and
    other student skills

Nontraditional – Older Adult Support Services Professionals

  • No set standard.
  • Commitment to diversity
  • Orientation programs, Student Involvement, Deans of Graduate Schools
  • Generalists


  • Advising and counseling adult students individually and in groups.
  • Advocating for adult students in policy-making and design of facilities
    as well as the instructional program.
  • Working with adult students to become involved in institutional activities.
  • Arranging social activities for adult students.
  • Working with faculty to understand the different approaches that may be
    necessary when teaching adult students.
  • Conducting research into the underrepresented groups and, once identified,
    develop a range of proactive strategies that are welcoming, preparatory and
    assist in promoting success.
  • Promoting the advantages of education in the community.
  • Organizing cultural orientation/preparatory programs that assist in the
    transition into study.
  • Negotiating appropriate space for observers of religious beliefs, as well
    as rooms and support for clubs, societies, functions, and the like.
  • Initiating learning programs that are culturally diverse and meaningful.
  • Offering staff development workshops that improve awareness of nontraditional
    student needs and requisites.



  • By 2010, 38.2% of college students will be 25 years or older.
    ( National Center for Education Statistics)

Implications for Student Affairs Practitioners

  • separate registration, advising, and orientation;
  • greater availability of and access to parking;
  • more evening and weekend course offerings;
  • special assistance with financial aid and housing; and
  • better preparation of faculty and staff to meet the needs of adult students.

Organizational Examples

  • California State – Fullerton
  • University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
  • University of New England
  • Penn State University


ACPA – Commission for Commuter Students & Adult Learners


Back to College:

Penn State University – Center for Adult Learner Services:

Purdue University – SPAN Program:

Oregon State University – 25+:
Oregon State University Educational Opportunities Program:

Iowa State University – Adult Student and Off Campus Resources:

ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Benshoff, James M. – Lewis, Henry A.

National Academic Advising Association

The Role of Student Affairs and Services in Higher Education: A Practical Manual
For Developing, Implementing, and Assessing Student Affairs Programmes and
Services. International Association of Student Affairs and Services Professionals

Penn State Hendrick Conference on Best Practices in Adult Learning May 10,
2004 “Building an Adult Learning Focused Institution: Why and
How” Pamela Tate, President and CEO, Council for Adult and Experiential
Learning (CAEL)

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