Notes from a Gen Xer

by Norma Jones, University of North Texas

During recessions, more non-traditional students (NTS) are returning to earn degrees and learn skills to improve personal economic situations.  As a result, community colleges and universities are competing with newer, online, and private institutions to attract non-traditional learners.  In addition, community colleges and universities have also become increasingly friendly to non-traditional students with online content and flexible scheduling.  I have observed a shift to non-traditional formats such as online classes as well as classes scheduled later in the day to allow for working adults to participate.

The US Department of Education (2002) have assigned the following characteristics to NTS:  delayed enrollment (did not continue onto post secondary in the same year as completing high school), part time, full time employee (35+ hours a week), financially independent (as determined by financial aid services), have dependants, single parents, and have GED instead of a high school diploma.  As of 2000, 73% of all post secondary students have one or more of the above characteristics thus classifying them as NTS.  I find it interesting that the US Department of Education does not include age as a NTS characteristic because in classrooms, non-traditional learners are usually identified because they are older.

The Federal Student aid services (2005) classify NTS as over 25 and as of 2005, over 27% of undergraduate students considered to be non-traditional.  Furthermore, they estimate that between 2006 to 2017, over 25 enrollment will increase by 19%.  Factoring in marketing generations, and as of today, the noted ages corresponds to Generation X who were born between 1966 and 1980.  I identify as a Gen X’er in addition to my other non-traditional characteristics.  In family life, Generation X were the first generation to be sent to day care centers.  Our parents experienced tripled divorce rates and we were also the original latch key kids.  I spent a lot of time at other people’s homes and am amazed at how the younger generation seemingly had at least one parent to come home to.  As a result of instability in homes, and forced independence, Generation X became the first yuppies where we made more money than previous generations.  We worked hard and played even harder.  Lifestyle brands such as The Sharper Image thrived during this time.  As a result, in classrooms and in teaching, my personal feelings regarding early hours and unpopular projects don’t matter.  We’re here to do a job and do it well.  We also witnessed Black Monday of 1987 and our extreme experience lifestyle changes resulting from the current recession.  As a Generation X’er, I sought stability because of unstable home and work lives.  Also, in most cases, the decision to return to or continue education is a marketing one because Gen X’ers are trying to find a means to earn money.  Thus, I suggest that community colleges and universities consider Generation X needs when developing recruiting and educational plans.

As a Generation X NTS, I am in my second year of my masters.  I am also a teaching assistant with my own classes.  So, I have experienced NTS education both as a teacher and as a student. Currently, I am in a Communication + Aging class where I am a couple of years older than my professor.  I am old.  I am older than half my professors.  One of them is actually from the same high school and graduated one year after me.  Being an older TA has advantages.  I don’t have to hide my age from freshmen who are four-five years younger than me and address myself with a title.  As a GenX’er I want stability so, last minute shifting content, schedules, and deadlines via email and text annoy me.  I’m learning to adjust to the faster pace of the wired babies.  Unlike my Millennial peers, I do not want constant handholding or affirmation.  I am amused by younger concerns, such as love and angst, that I haven’t dealt with in the better part of two decades.  But, these are my peers and this is my existing situation.  So, as an overachieving Gen X/Yuppie, I learn to adjust.

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