9-1-17 Free Speech Alley

An LSU Ambassador talks to students at Free Speech Alley on Sept. 1, 2017.

It’s easy to see the fall 2019 semester is quickly approaching. It feels like every week there is a mass group of high school students touring the campus. Enrolling at a major university directly after high school is widely promoted, as it should be, but not everyone takes this same path.

Life after high school is like trying to catch a subway. Subways are so crowded because everyone is trying to get to a destination in a tight time frame. This means some people are going to miss their ride. These passengers are the transfer and non-traditional students.

The National Center for Education Statistics defines the non-traditional student as someone being independent for financial aid purposes, having one or more dependents, being a single caregiver, not having a traditional high school diploma, delaying post-secondary enrollment, attending school part-time or being employed full-time.

By no means is the University doing anything to mistreat transfer and non-traditional students. However, it’s not widely promoted. I grew up my entire life wanting to come to this University. When I received my acceptance letter, I didn’t get a pat on the back. No one gave me graduation money or threw me a party. Instead, I was asked what took so long. I guess those are the questions you get when your first year at LSU comes three years

after high school graduation.

Most of the incoming freshmen who attend the University work hard, but some of them are spoiled and have no appreciation for this great institution. I suspect only a few of them know there is a small community college about 10 minutes away from campus.

The University does not have many non-traditional students because most of them attend Baton Rouge Community College. My experience at BRCC was vastly different. Sixteen percent of the University’s enrollment is 25 years old or older. At BRCC, it is nearly 37 percent. If you include students between the ages of 20 and 24 who do not attend straight out of high school, the number goes up to 77 percent.

At BRCC, students like me were looked down on. People stared at us with looks of shame and disappointment. The most frequent question for non-traditional students at BRCC is, “How did you end up here?”

At BRCC, there is no fun and games. There isn’t a First-Year Experience group or STRIPES. Non-traditional students at BRCC are encouraged to get a degree so they can get out as soon as possible.

Most first-year college students would not enjoy having the problems that non-traditional students face. It is awkward when your partner in a group project can’t meet with you because they couldn’t find a babysitter for their kids. It feels weird being an 18-year-old and your best friend in the class is a 65-year-old retired man. Non-traditional students have problems that 18-19-year-olds do not understand.

I could not wait for my first year at the University to start. I wanted to feel what it was like to have college experiences similar to ones I see and hear about on TV. However, reality sinks in when you start to see the other students you graduated with in high school. It’s hard to see your friends graduate knowing you have a few more years to go. It’s crazy how seeing things like this can make me feel like I’m three years behind, but I’ve never failed a class or grade. I receive a lot of criticism from people when they read the bottom of my column and it says “21-year-old mass communication

sophomore.”

On top of being a transfer, there are students like me who share non-traditional characteristics not widely talked about. There are students like me who have learning disabilities, are 21 years old, don’t have a car and commute more than 50 minutes between home and campus. All of these factors make attending this University difficult and far from traditional.

Every college student has their own journey, but the transfer and non-traditional student path is not glamorous. Instead of being looked down upon, we should be commended. Non-traditional students are more than high school dropouts. They are students who were faced with difficult life challenges and continued to persevere. Transfers are students who had to prove they were worthy of attending a university. Like the rapper said, “Put some respect on my name.”

Donald Fountain is a 21-year-old mass communication sophomore from Saint Francisville, Louisiana.

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