Blurring the generation gap

Theresa Montgomery

Students don’t always fit traditional, nontraditional categories

Traditional and nontraditional students don’t always fall neatly into statistical brackets.


• Total number of all undergraduates on all eight Kent State campuses: 29,547

• Number of Kent State nontraditional students, age 25 years or older: 6,549

• Attending full time: 2,480 students

• Attending part time: 4,069 students

• Number of Kent State traditional students, younger than 25 years old: 22,998

• Attending full time: 19,912 students

• Attending part time: 3,086 students

Source: From Kent State University database, provided by Mike Sperko, Institutional Data and Information director

“I think I’m kind of in the middle,” said Michal Steinmetz, 22, senior art education major. She said it is difficult at times to relate to younger students in her classes.

“I wouldn’t call myself traditional, though,” she said.

There are different definitions of what it means to be a nontraditional student, said Mike Sperko, Institutional Data and Information director for Research Planning and Institutional Effectiveness.

“I use age 25 as a determinate point, but it really depends at what you’re looking at,” he said. “Ask a 19-year-old mom who is working and going to school whether she fits into the traditional category. People just do the best they can.”

In a study conducted through the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly three out of four college undergraduates had at least one characteristic that would define them as nontraditional, according to the NCES Web site. Some of the factors considered in the study, in addition to age, were delaying entering college upon graduation from high school, being a single parent and working full time while being enrolled in college.

“It really does depend on what you’re looking at,” Sperko said. “But you have to draw the line somewhere.”

Senior sociology major Kathy Plute has been in both roles. A traditional Kent State student in the 1980s, she left to raise a family and returned to Kent State when her children were older.

Being in one category or another is more than a matter of age, Plute said.

“It’s also a mindset,” she said.

Although aware of rifts in age and life experience, traditional and nontraditional students don’t always feel a gap in their comfort level with each other.

“I met a girl I shared some very hard classes with, and it was like there was no age difference,” Plute said. “We were both students in this class, struggling, and we were able to help each other out.”

Rick Zerlinger, senior technology and business management major.

“I think the older you get, the more you learn from other people,” said Zerlinger. “We all just help each other out,” he said. “You work with each other to make the best of it.”

Although his age puts him in the traditional student category, Zerlinger works full-time and is a full-time student, a nontraditional characteristic.

“It’s a weak stereotype,” said Erick Steckel, sophomore marketing major. “Anybody who wants to go to school should, regardless of their age.”

For some people, those shoes are pretty comfortable.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for going back to school later, after you’re working and building a career,” Plute said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Contact features correspondent Theresa Montgomery at [email protected]