Create TAP to Support Non-traditional Students

shutterstock_34045903Barnes and Noble College, a college bookstore business, recently surveyed 100 traditional and 800 non-traditional students to compare their experiences and find ways to help non-traditional students achieve success. While many of their findings about student barriers and recommendations for success are directed at schools, there are steps that businesses can take through their TAP programs to help their employees be successful in higher education pursuits.

The non-traditional students in the survey met one or more criteria:
• 25 years of age or older
• online student or enrolled in distance education
• first-generation students
• employed full-time while being a student
• veteran status
• having dependents
• having some college

The non-traditional student population, people who meet one or more of these criteria, is expected to grow more than twice as fast as the traditional-age student population in the next six years. This growth rate is closely related to the fact that 90 percent of this population considers college moderately to very valuable. They see it as an opportunity to change or improve careers, earn more money or set a good example for their families.
Despite the dedication of this student population, they face barriers to their success. The Barnes and Noble report Achieving Success for Non-Traditional Students outlined many strategies that colleges can use to help non-traditional students be successful. However, help for students can come from another sector. Businesses can integrate many of these strategies into their tuition assistance programs.


The largest challenge for non-traditional students is finances. Finding ways to pay for education is a “moderate to big challenge” for 43 percent of non-traditional students, and only 15 percent of them said they feel financially secure. Finances are the number on reason that non-traditional students give for dropping out of school. Non-traditional students who have to meet family financial obligations along with education expenses mainly finance their education through loans, grants and scholarships. The dual financial strain of family and academic obligations impacts the number of classes that students can take, and the materials they can buy to help them be successes.

This is where businesses can help students overcome barriers through a TAP program. Offering students tuition reimbursement relieves one of the biggest barriers students face when attending school. A comprehensive tuition assistance program that covers books and course fees will also ensure that students have necessary books and materials for success in a class.

Connections and Counseling

Non-traditional students are twice as likely as traditional students to prefer online course because of the convenience when they are trying to juggle multiple and varied experiences such as work, school and family responsibilities. This convenience, however, comes at a cost. Because they seldom are at classes at a physical site, students may have a very low connection to their school. Students study online rather than on campus, courses and academic work are just one focus of a busy life that includes work and family responsibilities. Schools can help overcome this barrier with counseling that creates connections for the students.

Best practices in a TAP program can also achieve this. Including academic counseling to help employees see clear paths to academic completion helps students succeed. Helping students see a career path and realize how academic success and career success are related is in the best interest of both business and employees.

The number one reason non-traditional students enroll is for career preparation and advancement. This career growth is important to both employees and employers. Employees want to advance in their career, learn new skills, and move to positions of greater responsibility. For employers this is the way to target skills gaps that can threaten productivity and profitability of businesses. Including counseling as part of a TAP program assures employees that their academic path will be the best way to move along a career path.