From Pillars to PCs: The Evolution of the 'Traditional' College Experience

A college lecture used to be given to a classroom of newly graduated 18-year-olds looking for the ‘time of their life’ and the ‘full college experience’. However, times have changed.

“[In fact], it's been nearly a decade since the National Center for Education Statistics announced that 73 percent of all undergraduates don't fit that mold,” according to NPR.

Often these days, students attend college part-time, as well as attend lectures online and are also busy working and/or providing for their family. The majority of “traditional” students are now enrolled in online schools, or at community and for-profit colleges.

In 2010, almost half of all college students were financially independent. In addition, about 50 percent were enrolled in college part-time, 38 percent worked full-time, and 27 percent had their own dependents, according to USA Today using National Center for Education Statistics. Also, about 12 million students – which is almost half the amount of college students in the nation – attended two-year colleges rather than four-year schools.

“There is a new era of education; the nontraditional student is really the traditional student nowadays,” Rasmussen College Blaine Campus Director Patty Sagert said. “This is really the traditional student of the future.”

The Economy Forces Students to Change

The economy appears to be the reason so many students originally began to change their expectations of college. As people without a degree began to get laid off or started stressing about the possibility of losing their jobs, they began enrolling in college. They did so because they noticed the minimum requirement to get a new job in the current job market was to have an associate or bachelor’s degree.

“…A lot of people [are] going back to college to get credentials to upgrade their skills to be more competitive in the job market,” according to NPR.

Like stated earlier in this article, students are no longer moving directly from high school to college. They are trying to build their lives for a while by starting families, working and then eventually they make the decision that they need that college degree credential in order to get a good job, NPR said.

“Today it’s less about fear and more about opportunity,” Sagert said. “People are realizing that to succeed, they need something that is going to set them apart from other candidates. They know they need what will get them to that next level of success.

“In addition, students are realizing they have more purpose and direction in regards to their future because they are doing more to prepare themselves. They are doing more research, going online and talking to friends.”  

tradcollegestudOnline Learning Offers Students Choices

In addition, the ‘traditional’ student has changed because online learning has evolved and given students more flexibility. Online classes have become more acceptable.

“In the past, the working mom with two kids could not give up time to go to school,” Sagert said. “But now she has the opportunity to study and attend classes after she puts her kids to bed. It’s a timeline that works for her, and she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything; she can have her cake and eat it too.”

Also, more students can enroll full-time in college due to the flexibility of online courses. According to a Boston University student newspaper, enrolling full-time is exactly what some students’ want so they can minimize loans and debts.

Fortunately, Rasmussen College wants students to make a more informed decision about their future that will fill their passion and their wallet, according to Sagert, who has been a campus director for six years.

Enrolling in online courses can help direct a bigger number of people to happiness and success.

Connecting Today’s World with Students

In just the past five years, the typical student has evolved into one that is looking for integration of both online and regular classes. Traditional universities are still struggling with creating a solid online class program, and even changing the types of professors they hire.

“It’s a total cultural shift for them," said Sagert. "Those older professors are struggling to embrace the new era of education."

“At Rasmussen College, many of our instructors have a job in their field and work at the College part-time,” Sagert said. “Our students don’t have that instructor who has taught for 30 years; they have the instructor who not only teaches theory, but provides a much more real-world application of learning. Students want the real life stories instead of the textbook scenarios.”

It’s extremely important for colleges to make sure they’re relevant to their students and community. For example, Rasmussen College tries to understand the business needs of its community through corporate partnerships, as well as through its career services advisors, who try to get a concrete idea of the skills and abilities that are needed in the community for hire.

It’s important for colleges to stay ahead of the job trends, continue evolving the curriculum, as well as being innovative and creative.

“We just need to be prepared with the future in mind,” Sagert said. “If we aren’t meeting the needs of the students at the right time, we aren’t going to be relevant to them or our community leaders. That is why our college remains on top of the changes.”

The important takeaway is students no longer have to give up their life to be a college student. In the past, students only had a couple choices for classes and it might not have fit with the schedule of a parent or possibly someone who had a full-time job. Now that students have choices, they are happy about it. Students these days want it when they want it when they want it, according to Sagert.

External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Jennifer is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who researches and writes articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about learning and higher education and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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