Non-Traditional Student Orientations
Non-traditional (in this context I’m referring to transfers, commuters, part-time, and older than average) student populations continue to grow and in all likelihood will continue to do so. With this growth, comes the challenge of creating effective and engaging orientation programs for these students. While traditional new student programming focuses on both academic and extra-curricular engagement, non-traditional student programming must augment this combination in order to properly address the varied needs and concerns that these students have.
One of the major challenges regarding non-traditional programming is that the students coming to sessions have so many specific wants and needs and are often less willing or able to sit through information they don’t need in order to get to the information they want. Issues vary but may include: How to find nearby daycare, the cost of parking, how credits or military experience will transfer, how can I get/stay involved on campus, where to go and relax and/or study between classes, information about online classes, what types and amounts of student fees do I pay AND where can I meet more people my own age.
For me one of the keys to addressing this challenge is to continuously be aware of the prevalent issues for non-traditional students within my institution. This awareness can come from keeping up on professional journals, learning from community colleges and other institutions that have large non-traditional student populations and also seeking out non-traditional students who are willing to share their experiences in order to better shape and guide future orientation programs. By doing these things, I can help to ensure that the right people and resources will be available when students either come to campus or attend a virtual orientation session. Off the top of my head I recommend having information fairs where all of the necessary people and departments are available, but not required to address every student’s questions. It may also be helpful to provide non-traditional campus tours that include stops at parking services, computer labs, places to rest/nap, daycare centers, etc. Virtual orientations or at least partially virtual through podcasts, website tours, webinars, etc. may be beneficial to reach students who cannot attend orientations or at least supplement on-campus programming.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that despite the unique issues of non-traditional students it is also important to ensure that they receive similar if not the same information as traditional students regarding academic and social engagement. All of these students should be encouraged to seek out research, internship, and study abroad opportunities available on their campuses. They should be aware of academic resources on campus including but not limited to writing and learning centers, academic coaching, professor’s office hours, and disability access services. And they should also be aware of the various ways that they could get involved socially on campus, including ways that they could connect or translate their current community involvement into something on campus.
The challenges associated with non-traditional student populations will probably continue to increase as the variety of needs and questions these students have continue to grow and become more complicated. Student affairs professionals who are able to recognize the needs of students within this population and produce effective, efficient services to meet these needs will be highly sought out for their knowledge and program planning skills.