Non-traditional students aspire to excel

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Retired U.S. Navy deep-sea diver, Peter Joseph McElroy works to ensure the veterans coming into the center are prepared for daily operations.

By Shondalea Wollaston

A better paying job, the need to brush up on skills, keep up with rapidly changing technology, or the desire to chase that dream you had to place on the back-burner years ago.

Whatever the reason, according to the National Center for Education statistics, the number of non-traditional students returning to campuses across America is on the rise.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a non-traditional student is characteristically over the age of 24, and may be balancing families, work, or life circumstances that interfere with successful completion of educational objectives.

A non-traditional student could also be someone who chose to sit out their first year of college.

Rose Williams, 39, of Abington, Pa. and mother to three children ages 13, 18, and 21, works as a cardiovascular technician for post-operative telemetry at Abington Memorial Hospital.

After several years of contemplation, and after much encouragement from her current employer, she decided to enroll in the nursing program at Delaware County Community College. “My heart has always been in the field of nursing,” Williams said.

Just two weeks into her first semester, she finds the most challenging part to be simply getting started. “I had to check my fears at that door!” she said, pointing to the main entrance of the Marple campus building. “I knew I would be surrounded by kids the same age as mine and it was terrifying.”

Taking on the course load and raising a family is certainly a challenge but Williams finds it to be easier now that her children are older, and certainly worth the struggle. “Having a daughter in high school to help with math homework doesn’t hurt either!”

Williams managed to overcome those fears after only a few classes, and is now very happy to be pursuing her degree in nursing, she said.

There are many stories similar to Williams and many with different motivations. Despite the rising cost of education, as well as the demands associated with academic life, there was a 10 percent increase in non-traditional student enrollment at DCCC from 2015- 2016, according to statistics released by the Office ofInstitutional Research.

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Rose Williams, nursing student and mom of three, looks to her daughter, a high school student, for a little extra help with math homework. Photos by Shondalea Wollaston

Jacqueline Griego, director of Institutional Research on Marple campus, explained there are various reasons for the slight rise in non-traditional students across the country, as well as at DCCC.“If jobs are good, people are usually working,” William said. “Sometimes students return to school when employers are seeking new skill sets and employees feel the need to brush up. However, when unemployment rates are high, economic factors often come into play.”

Crystal Somers, 31, of Atlantic City, NJ, is a single mom to three children ages 4, 7, and 10. She works part time at an upscale salon while attending radiology school five days a week.

“My mom was always working when I was young,” Somers said. “I just remember that feeling of looking up at every gymnastics meet, only to find that she didn’t make it, so I will do whatever it takes, but I don’t want that for my kids.”

Somers’ day begins at 5 a.m. each morning. Her children attend both before and after school care, followed by dance lessons and baseball, which Somers attends to cheer them on.

After that it is time for homework, dinner, bath time, and finally bedtime for the kids. This is Somers’ time to hits the books. “It used to be tough, but I don’t think about it anymore,” said Somers. “We have a solid routine and we just do it.”

Peter Joseph McElroy, 45, from Exton, Pa, is a single father of a 17-year-old daughter, and a retired 20-year veteran of the United States Navy.

McElroy worked as a deep sea diver, doing underwater construction in places such as Japan, Australia, and South Africa.

After working several years as a civilian contractor in Panama City, Fla., McElroy was laid off and forced to pursue other avenues. “At that time I felt it was best to return to the area and spend time with family,” McElroy said.

He is pursuing a degree in liberal arts with the intention of transferring in May to a four year university, while taking advantage of his hard earned 9/11 G.I. Bill.