Community, Online Colleges Fill Growing Need for Non-Traditional Students


Many college students balance family and work responsibilities with academics, and it can make nontraditional higher education the path to a future degree and career. More students are now attending community and online colleges, despite some high school counselors who push them toward traditional four-year schools. Sue Subocz, associate president and provost of online school Walden University, said the pandemic and subsequent lockdown boosted interest in distance learning. She sees Illinois students who study at community colleges or online learning getting educational opportunities they might otherwise miss.

“To me, starting at a community college just makes a whole lot of sense,” Subocz asserted. “I think community college leaders would tell you across the board, they struggle to align with their high schools and their guidance counselors to have community colleges considered equally. It is perplexing.”

She noted as an example, Walden offers online nursing programs leading to bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees, which can lead to positions currently in short supply in Illinois. According to the American Nurses Association of Illinois, the state will need to hire about 15,000 more nurses by 2025. Jacinto Ramos, a Walden alumnus working in educational support services, completed his doctoral degree through Walden. He said it was a positive experience, and the college’s mission statement aligned with his experience and professional goals.

“I did have one semester where I fell off — life got so hectic — and I recall the phone calls I was getting from Walden personnel checking in on me, making sure that I was OK,” Ramos recounted. “That social emotional support meant the world to me, and helped me get back on track the very next semester.”

Subocz believes there is still a stigma attached to nontraditional forms of higher education, but she pointed out many of her graduates have done well in the job market.

“In some jobs, community college graduates are getting hired at much higher rate,” Subocz reported. “If you look at registered nurses, the typical degree they hold is an associate degree in nursing. Like in many fields, has been a movement to push the degree requirements higher.”

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, community college grads dominate certain professional fields, including health and security, and 80% of all law enforcement officers, EMTs, and firefighters.

Reported by Mark Richardson

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