Non-Traditional Students Can Thrive During COVID-19 Online Learning

By Shannon Simpson, Western Technical College student

To say this last year has been challenging is an understatement. I don’t have to remind anyone why, or rehash what happened. The least I can say is we have all experienced this pandemic together. For institutions of higher learning, like Western Technical College, this past year has included sending their students home and transitioning to 100 percent online instruction. This has no doubt upended traditional student’s college experiences, but for those of us that are Non-Traditional, we’ve had our fair share of changes and challenges too.

In normal times, Non-Traditional students enter higher learning with our own student obstacles, like balancing school schedules with work and/ or family life. But experiencing higher learning during a pandemic can add a much bigger wrinkle.

I enrolled as a non-traditional student in the spring of 2020. Technically, I was auditing a class to get my feet wet, but I chose to participate in all of the assignments, quizzes and exams. This was my first time stepping back into a college environment since I earned my bachelor’s degree in 1997. Over the years, I have attended development seminars, or obtained certifications, but a new role I was offered at work, gave me the opportunity to change career paths. 

I knew I needed ongoing education to keep up with the trends of the new career I was entering into. I also knew a few webinars would not be enough. That is when I turned to Western Technical College. When I first reached out to Western, I was also working full-time. When businesses were told to close last spring, our company was designated an “essential business” and was allowed to stay open. I know I was fortunate to continue to work. I also know this was not the same outcome for some of you.

Although I continued to work, my personal life had its own set of changes, as our two young boys were sent home to do, “virtual learning.”  We made the decision for me to work from home and help our boys navigate their new normal.  What makes this even more challenging is that we have a “non- traditional” family structure.

I work for a manufacturing company, but my job is in the office setting.  My employer was gracious and flexible by allowing many parents whose children were now at home, to also work from home. It’s not something I had typically done from home, but could be adapted.

The class I was taking here at Western was meeting during the day, in person. I enjoyed having the chance to meet in person; not for the college experience as most traditional college students look for, but a chance to engage with my instructor and classmates. I do a lot of work on the computer, so it was refreshing to be able to leave work for a few hours and take in the in-person instruction. I also liked that I did not have to interrupt my family time to take a class in the evening. 

As details continued to form about the Coronavirus, or COVID 19, Western was extremely effective with their communication. When the decision came to close the campus, our instructor was also given the opportunity to finish teaching the class online.  She and Western made sure we all had what we needed to compete our classes online. They sent out surveys that asked:

  • Do you have access to the internet?
  • Do you have a lap top or computer to work from?
  • Do you have a place to study?
  • Or, most importantly, do you have a place to live, access to meals, money, all of the essentials?

All of this for me, at least, was reassuring. This was an unpresented time, and Western was doing everything they could so rapidly to ensure students were taking care of and classes could still continue. Although I was disappointed that my new experience would be ending, I was still determined to finish the class.  I also knew I did not have it as bad as others who may have just become displaced, or forced to move back home.

When the class moved to online, there was not a set date or time, or even a class zoom call to schedule.  Assignments and quizzes were all posted online with due dates.  This meant that I had to find a way to fit it into my day; a day that was already filled with my work schedule and ensuring our two boys were able to succeed in their virtual days.  I remember my instructor and WTC, for that matter, being very flexible with assignment due dates, understanding that most of the student’s lives were in upheaval.  I ended up finishing the class that semester with a grade of “A.”

I chose not to take any summer or fall classes, as COVID-19 continued to spread and our boys also continued to have virtual school. In the fall of 2020, both of our boys were entering new schools and grade levels. I was not quite sure that I wanted to take on school again of my own during this time. But, by the fall and winter, the boys were excelling in their remote school work. Watching them at their young ages find a way to excel was empowering. They taught me that I could continue with school too. This spring, 2021, I enrolled in two classes.  This is what is so great about Western Technical College; I could just take some time off and pop back in when it was convenient for me.

This time, I knew fully well there were no in-person classes, nor would my classes meet at a scheduled time during the week. I am also back working in the office again. I had to find a way to make this work. I was determined to succeed. I owed it to myself to continue to learn and my employer for having faith in me in my new role.

With the right support and resources, I have faith you can thrive as a Non-Traditional Student in these times too.

Here are 3 Tips to get your started: 

  • If finances are holding you back, look into the financial aid options through Western Technical College. 
  • If you are employed, find out what type, if any, tuition reimbursement programs your employer may offer to help offset expenses.
  • Connect with an Admissions Coach. I was matched with someone that stayed in constant communication with me, whether over the phone or E-mail.  I always felt my questions could be answered with my Admissions Coach. 

I’ve been able to maintain a grade of an A in one class and an AB in the other this spring, all while balancing work and family.  I figured it out, and I know you can too. So, what is next for you? Are you ready to dive in?  Your experience is what you make of it. With support from Western and utilizing some of these tips, you can be a successful student-even in times like the COVID-19 pandemic.  As Western Technical College’s Website states, “Your goals are not on hold!”  “And we’ll be here to support you every step of the way.”  You can do this!