The Independent

Non-Traditional Students Juggle School and Life at Fort Lewis College


Story by Jimi Giles

Out of the 3,850 students enrolled at Fort Lewis College in the fall of 2011, 596 students were deemed non-traditional, but what’s the significance?

Melissa Shelton, Non-Traditional Student at Fort Lewis College. Photo by Allie Johnson

Colleges across the nation hold their own definition of a non-traditional student, and for most campuses, it refers to students over the age of 25, said Executive Director of Fort Lewis College’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment Richard Miller.

Fifteen percent of FLC’s student body, roughly one out of six students, is over the age of 25, and these are typically students with a variety of out-of-the-classroom commitments that are not usually present with traditionally aged students, Miller said.

“These are a group of students that have unique needs,” he said.

Commitments may vary from being a parent, an employee, a spouse, or a member of the military.

Twenty-nine percent of FLC’s Native American population is non-traditional, Miller said, the highest of the ethnicities present on campus.  The statistic for Native Americans, however, is misleading, as the Office of Institutional Research Planning and Assessment, OIRPA, uses the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System’s definition for Native Americans, which disregards students that are biracial Natives, Miller said.

FLC’s Hispanic population follows with 12 percent being non-traditional and the non-minority population is close behind with 11 percent being non-traditional, Miller said.

Tyreen Livingston Photo By Allie Johnson


Amoretta Pringle, 30, an FLC accounting major and member of the Diné and Tlingit tribes, said being a non-traditional college student has given her the opportunity to pursue a career and support her family of two.

As a single parent Pringle balances being a mother, a student, and an employee.

Along with working seasonally at a local restaurant, Pringle cleans homes during the school year to help with finances, she said. 


Pringle attributes her success to her two girls, ages 7 and 14, her own goals, and her diligence as a student; but she also takes advantage of the Native American Center, which rents out certain textbooks and calculators for free for the whole semester, a service open to all FLC students.

When Pringle’s not in class, she’s still on campus, constantly doing homework and getting tutored, she said. 

At home, however, it’s a different story.

“When I’m at home,” she said, “I’m in mom-mode.”

Pringle says she may have begun parenthood too early in life, but she doesn’t regret the decision to start a family, as she provides a home, food, happiness, and support for her children.

The Native American tuition waiver, which was a major incentive for Pringle’s current enrollment, will hopefully be present for her children when they decide to go to college, she said.

Entering the college atmosphere at age 30, Socio-Cultural Philosophies of Sustainability major Melissa Shelton, currently 46, said it was intimating to be surrounded by younger students.

Shelton attributes her success not only to her driven personality, but to her dialogue with professors.  By creating this conversation, Shelton receives the maximum benefit from her classes, she said

As a wife, mother of three, and local business owner, Shelton relies on FLC’s resources, including the Program for Academic Advancement and the Counseling Center.

The goal of the PAA is to help a wide range of individuals: first-generation students, low-income students, and students with. Shelton’s PAA advisor, along with counselors at the Counseling Center, act as “calming influences” when she’s bombarded with the daily stresses of being a non-traditional student, she said. 

Shelton’s advice for other non-traditional students:  enjoy the adventure, embrace the opportunities presented, flow within the systems to achieve the education desired, make friends, and never be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “Help!”


Julie Jacobson, Non-Traditional Fort Lewis College Student. Photo By Allie Johnson

Miller  sees the opportunity for FLC to grow with a larger presence of non-traditional students, he said.

“Nationwide, the schools that are growing most rapidly are the schools that are deliberately focused on the needs of adult learners,” he said.