DGCE Helps Keep Nontraditional Students from Falling Through the Cracks

April 9, 2020
By: Hana Lasell

News and information about the shift to remote learning has heavily focused on traditional undergraduate students—typically those in the 18-22 age range. But Worcester State is well-known for being a haven for the “nontraditional” student—the full-time or part-time working adult, the parent, the English-language learner, the refugee.

“Our students represent a wide range of learners and therefore face a wide range of unique challenges to succeeding academically during a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic,” says Adult Student Advisor Elena Arranz of the Department of Graduate and Continuing Education (DGCE).

According to Arranz and Assistant Dean of Graduate and Continuing Education Marilyn Cleary, both of whom stress the importance of advocating for all students during this time of uncertainty, DGCE is ready to assist nontraditional students in a wide variety of areas and council them on any issue they may be facing.

“Many of our students are facing a lot of stressful challenges right now, and it’s important that we acknowledge the challenges and prioritize every potential issue so we can resolve it as soon as we learn of it,” says Arranz. “Otherwise, we know that many adult students will fall through the cracks.”

In addition to the general logistics of completing classwork remotely, many nontraditional students are raising families, working multiple shifts at multiple jobs, and caring for elders. When you factor in the added stress of homeschooling children and lack of childcare, the threat of lost wages, and food insecurity, Arranz says that “survival becomes an extra challenge because it is almost impossible for our students to prioritize their own educational responsibilities right now. Some of the new policies—like pass/fail, extended withdrawal deadline—will help them feel reassured that we are here to help.”

DGCE is working closely with students like Gloriann Switzer, who hopes to earn her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with a concentration in child advocacy in 2022. Switzer, who works both a full-time and part-time job and volunteers with the CASA Project Worcester, has had to adapt to completing her coursework at home while living with and maintaining responsibility for six adult family members.

Switzer says that DGE has been immensely supportive of her success prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The DGCE office, Marilyn Cleary, and especially Elena [Arranz] are absolutely wonderful,” she says. “The lines of communication are always open to them and they always respond quickly with knowledgeable and supportive information.”

While the transition to remote learning has altered her expected graduation date, Switzer remains positive that she will be able to complete her degree at her own pace without issue.

“I had anticipated pushing to finish in 2021,” she says. “I will keep pushing, but it may take an extra year to 2022, but that is okay because covering what my family and jobs and CASA needs from me first is a priority. I feel truly grateful to WSU for trusting my pace and giving me the space and time to do well, get good grades, and ultimately get a degree that really means something to me.”

Currently DGCE is working on ways to leverage existing resources to assist students who are struggling academically or personally.

“First and foremost, we want students to know that we are here for them,” says Cleary. “We want them to know that they can reach out to us at any time with any issue.”

But beyond that, DCGE is actively assisting students in planning the logistics of learning remotely while dealing with home challenges, connecting them with other organizations and programs—SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children program)—that provide assistance for those struggling with access to food, and making them aware of the University’s mental health services.

“We just really want to be able to advocate for our students and help put all of this fear and confusion into perspective. Above all, we just want them to feel like they can reach out and communicate to us at any time,” Arranz reiterates.

Students who wish to contact DGCE should email Elena Arranz at earranz@worcester.edu, or call 508-929-8512.

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