Non-traditional student roles increase at NIU

By Sheryl Cajka

The role of the non-traditional student has increased as more students commute to school.

According to research obtained last fall by NIU Institutional Research, 6,921 students commute to NIU.

Institutional Research Director Nick Noe said of this number, 2,792 students are in the graduate program, 3,998 are undergraduates and 126 are in law school.

In addition, 63 percent of NIU’s graduate student population, 22 percent of undergraduates and 42 percent of law students commute to NIU.

Most commuter students are considered non-traditional because they have had a break in their education, said Ruth Wickersham, graduate assistant for non-traditional students.

“More and more universities are finding students don’t just come straight in (to college) and graduate,” she said.

Many students are unable to live on campus for various reasons, including having their own families, wanting to save money or working close to home, she said.

Junior Bill McGuire, who is majoring in physical education, said he commutes from Belvidere because he wants to spend time with his daughter and also works 40 hours each week.

“I’m busy and tired. I don’t sleep much, but it’s worth it,” he said.

Since these students may not be on campus when they don’t have classes, Wickersham said she works as a “broker” to give them information about various campus activities.

However, few services are offered to commuting students.

Patty Thayer, a senior English major, has driven 60 miles round-trip to NIU from St. Charles every day for the past five semesters.

Although she said she would not live on campus because she works and has a family, she thinks the university should offer commuter students an area to store their belongings.

“When I came to orientation, there was no presentation for commuter students,” she said. “It does make it difficult because I have to carry everything I need with me everywhere.

Thayer also said when she started school she did not know where to go to spend her time between classes.

Donald Buckner, associate vice president for Student Affairs, said the Student Life Center, which is currently under consideration, will provide services for commuter students.

“If it is built, there will be a commuter lounge and possibly a commuter service area,” he said.

However, the center has been put on the backburner due to the state’s tight financial times as well as student opposition to the project.