Designing for Nontraditional College Students

According to a recent study conducted by RTI International, 74% of American undergraduate students are “nontraditional”. This is defined as:

Being over 24 years old
Having a GED
Working
Having a child
Being a single parent
Waiting at least one year after high school to start college
Being a first-generation student (first in family to attend some form of college)

These nontraditional students are less likely to graduate, and if they do graduate, it rarely happens in 4 years. With the rising cost of post-secondary education, “nontraditional” students are carrying an ever-increasing financial burden. This burden is most significant for those individuals who do not graduate at all. In fact, those who do not finish their degree are three times as likely to default on their loans.

College, it seems, has been design for a “traditional” population that is now the minority of those actually attending these schools.

Over the next 8 weeks, I will be conducting research to better understand the experience of nontraditional students attending colleges and universities so that I can ultimately design products and systems that will support these students in their journey to graduate in four years.

The University of Texas is currently working  to support these students, and is in the process of developing a new learning model based in competency-based education.  It’s believed that this will work better for those students who are limited on time. To encourage these students to continue and complete their courses, I’ve been tasked with developing a set of viable concepts for visualizing a student’s progress through UT’s new education app.  Through both primary and secondary research, my hope is to take this assignment a bit further, and first validate that this app will solve the main challenges that “nontraditional” students are facing. I’ll use this research to define the problem space, generate insights, and ultimately design for improving the experience and graduation rate of “nontraditional” students.