Sen. Clinton Unveils Plan to Help Nontraditional Students
Nontraditional students trying to get their college degrees tend to get short shrift, according to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who recently proposed legislation to help improve graduation rates among these students and tear down some of the barriers they face.
Clinton announced the measure, known as the Non-Traditional Student Success Act and co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., at the Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., last month.
She said the goal of the plan is to boost graduation rates among nontraditional students, because an individual’s wages and earnings rise significantly once he or she obtains an associate’s degree.
“Today, 39 percent of students at higher education institutions are 25 years or older, compared with 28 percent in 1970. Forty percent of undergraduates work full-time, up from just one-quarter 15 years ago. And close to 30 percent have children,” Clinton said. “You know these students. You work with them every day. You know they are working hard to finish school, to provide for their families, to do the right thing. And they deserve our support.”
Nontraditional students fall outside the age range of 18-24 year olds, and they often hold full- or part-time jobs and have families. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, about 90 percent of community-college students are nontraditional.
These students not only grapple with daily-life challenges, Clinton said, but many also are intimidated by the college experience and afraid to ask for help if they struggle academically or don’t understand something.
The Clinton-Graham initiative seeks to help more nontraditional students access financial aid in a number of ways.
Pell Grants would be available year-round under the plan, and the maximum Pell award would increase from $4,050 to $11,600 during the course of the next five years. The plan proposes using the Internet and direct-mail campaigns to get the word out to nontraditional students about their financial-aid options.
The bill seeks also to increase the percentage of education expenses that could be counted toward the Lifetime Learning tax credit, from 20 percent to 50 percent, capping the credit at $2,000.
The measure also would: reward schools that offer flexible class schedules and child-care services; raise the level of funding for innovative remedial programs to $50 million; and offer more counseling to students struggling with social and cultural challenges by providing more funding for Student Support Service programs, GEAR-UP and College Assistance Migrant programs.
Clinton said mentoring programs are especially lacking for minority students, and that the legislation would strive to change that. She also said the bill would help offset cuts posed to higher education by President Bush’s 2005 budget plan.
Dr. Thomas Wolanin, a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, said he’s very supportive of the legislation and thinks it would do much to relieve nontraditional students of some of their financial burdens.
“By far the most useful (proposal) would be increasing the Pell Grant — if that could in fact be accomplished. Put more money in the hands of nontraditional students so they can pay the bills and go to college,” Wolanin said.
He also agreed with Clinton that Bush’s current budget plan puts the squeeze on education funding.
“I think that the majority and Congress and the (Bush) administration have created a situation for themselves by tax cuts and spending that make domestic policy initiatives extremely difficult. This is not something that fell from the sky or that God did to them — this is something they did to themselves. They have chosen to tie their hands and make it difficult to do things like expanding opportunity for education,” Wolanin said.
Clinton said she and Graham have drafted the legislation and are in the throes of mustering support for it in Congress, but the looming national deficit could hinder their progress.
Vincent Slay, a 32-year-old, full-time student at Brookhaven College in Dallas, said he hopes the legislation passes, because it would greatly benefit him, especially with financing his education.
Slay, who is married and has two children, said he enrolled in college right after graduating high school in 1989, but high costs prevented him from continuing. He also said the bill’s emphasis on helping nontraditional students with cultural and social challenges is critical.
At Brookhaven “the percentage of minority students staying is a problem due to the fact that they don’t have the cultural and social help to adapt into the educational system. Everyone has a desire to go to school, but once they get here more than half of them drop out because they don’t have the support and advice about how to socialize with other people,” Slay said.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com