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The changing face of higher education

The changing face of higher education

By Chris Coyne

Autumn is here, and for a lot us, the season brings back memories of first days of school, and the excitement that a new year brings. The parents among us may think of all that's involved in sending a child off to college, and the combination of pride and nervousness we feel when casting our babies out of the nest.

There is a certain image of a new college student that's come to be accepted in our collective consciousness: That of the hopeful, fresh-faced kid straight out of high school taking the first big steps toward their future. While that scenario may be true for some of students, it's becoming increasingly less common.

According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, only about 29% of all college graduates are what can be called ‘traditional' students; those that go straight from high school to a four year college. What we used to refer to as a ‘non-traditional' student-the older undergrad, those starting over to pursue different careers, two-year or specialty school students and part-time students---are far more common than they were in the past. In fact they outnumber ‘traditional' undergrads nearly 3 to 1.

One of the many factors that are contributing to the changing landscape of America's institutes of higher learning is sheer numbers. There were a higher percentage of traditional students in college a generation ago, but there were also far fewer people going to college. The necessity of higher education as a means to a rewarding and lucrative career is much stronger now. The income gap between college grads and those that are not has widened precipitously.

That gap is changing the demographics as more people see the need to attain higher education but take different routes toward degrees or certifications. Today that demographic looks more like....everyone; the single mom that works full-time and is back in school to create a better life for her children; the military veteran who's back from deployment and learning new skills; the older professional who is looking to reinvent themselves. This is what today's college classroom looks like, and it's no exception here in the Twin Tiers.

Healthy Life spoke to Julie Fielding, Career Placement Coordinator at Elmira Business Institute about the makeup of a typical EBI enrollment class, and it's reflective of the nationwide trend. "Of the student population on the Elmira campus, 79% of the students are ‘non-traditional'," says Ms. Fielding, "Many of our students have families and are employed. At EBI, students have the ability to choose classes during the day, evening and even on weekends to accommodate their schedules."

If the trend continues, and it shows no signs of waning, those that were once considered ‘non-traditional' students will become the norm. And maybe that's the way it should be. Rather than the student who continues his or her education right out of high school because ‘that's what they're supposed to do'-we'll have a more determined, engaged and focused student body that's hungry to learn.


Julie Fielding
Career Placement Coordinator
Elmira Business Institute
303 North Main Street, Elmira, NY