It’s something SUNY Cortland’s approximately 300 nontraditional students have known for a long time: the College is a welcoming place for undergraduates who are pursuing a college degree later in life.
The campus has earned national recognition for helping such students, which SUNY Cortland defines as being 24 years and older, make the most of their Cortland experience.
The Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE) recognized SUNY Cortland for being a nontraditional student-friendly campus March 25, during the 20th annual ANTSHE Conference at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
The College was one of only two institutions nationwide to earn a 2017 ANTSHE Nontraditional Student-Friendly Award from the association during this year’s conference. The Adult Center at Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, Ind., was also recognized.
Cheryl Hines, SUNY Cortland’s coordinator of student outreach and nontraditional student support, accepted the honor on behalf of the College’s Advisement and Transition Office (see above left image).
ANTSHE spokesperson Lori A. Viar complimented the College in a letter announcing the award.
“Your adult learner program was recognized for being nontraditional student-centric and beneficial in aiding nontraditional students in achieving their academic goals and dreams,” Viar said.
“ANTSHE's Annual Nontraditional Student-Friendly Award recognizes adult learner programs at colleges and universities across the country that provide the resources, support, motivation and environment that encourages older students and aides in their success,” Viar said. “It is the physical location, resources and academic support that is assessed and rewarded.”
Nationally, nontraditional students are defined as those who matriculate with a time lapse in education after high school, those raising children, ones working full time, individuals with prior military experience or those who have an interruption in their education. And they make up an increasingly large segment of campus populations. These scholars often take unique paths to realize their academic goals and achieve their degrees after overcoming obstacles that traditional, right-out-of-high-school students don’t usually face.
The adult learner programs at ANTSHE award-winning colleges have proven to be successful at catering to their nontraditional students by designing programs around those students' needs, and providing the resources and support they need to achieve educational success, Viar said.
The colleges or universities were assessed to determine how nontraditional student-centric they are based on their programs and level of support that they provide.
“It is Cheryl’s leadership and her dedication and support of our students that led to SUNY Cortland receiving this award,” noted Lori Schlicht, the College’s associate director of academic engagement. “In particular, Cheryl created the ‘Celebrate a Non-Trad’ campaign, where students, faculty and staff recognize our non-trad students for their hard work and dedication. This recognition highlights the fact that most of our non-trads balance family, jobs and other commitments.”
The College also hosts a chapter of the academic honor society dedicated to nontraditional students, Alpha Sigma Lambda.
The association in its assessment was equally impressed by another successful yearly initiative at SUNY Cortland, the Non-Traditional Students Week.
“In fact Cheryl has been acknowledged twice through ANTSHE with the ‘Best Nontraditional Student Week Celebration,’” her colleague Schlicht noted.
The week features daily programming focusing on both social and academic impacts. Non-Trad Week events have included family activities, a specially tailored scholarship session, a free taco bar and a “Non-Trads Rock” T-shirt day when anyone spotted wearing that signature shirt won a prize. The College in recent years has publicly recognized five notable nontraditional students during the week with stories about them appearing on the College's news pages.
Additionally, the College some years ago created dedicated space for non-traditional students, giving them social space to relax and computers for school work. That measure also fits the ANTSHE’s criteria for non-traditional student-friendly.
“This is not just a location for our students,” Schlicht said. “The Non-Trad Lounge is a critical element offered for our students. Cheryl responds to students’ requests for resources and makes sure the space is utilized and comfortable with amenities that assist all our nontrads but especially the students that commute to campus.”
SUNY Cortland also offers student representation within the student body government, events and publications geared toward this group of students, childcare options, specific programs at orientation and scholarship opportunities.
ANTSHE is an organization that supports non-traditional students seeking to advance in their professional careers by furthering their college education, providing a support network, resources and scholarship opportunities. The organization also supports the endeavors of academic professionals and institutions that foster the success of nontraditional students.
The ANTSHE Awards promote nontraditional student success in higher education by recognizing individuals and institutions that have made extraordinary contributions to create adult learner programs and environments that encourage, motivate and provide the resources and aide needed for adult learner success.
“ANTSHE recognizes individuals and adult learner programs that exemplify the highest standards and organizations that have conducted activities to promote and expand adult learner programs,” Viar said. “Award winners serve as inspirational leaders to ANTSHE: they embody the core values of serving nontraditional students and being committed to ANTSHE.”