Nontraditional students manage more than school

Sheri Milhollin always imagined that she would attend college. She just never thought she would attend college with her children.

Two of Milhollin’s children attend TCU and plan to graduate before their mother. Milhollin, a 46-year-old communication studies major, said because she could take only six hours a semester, she might take up to 10 years to graduate.

But she is committed to obtaining her degree. Last year, 155 nontraditional students entered TCU, according to an e-mail written by Director of Transfer Admissions Joael Kelly.

“I graduated in the top 10 percent of my class, but I was crazy in love, and I got married to my high school sweetheart the day after I graduated from high school,” Milhollin said.

Milhollin said she spent the next nine years helping her husband get through school. By the time he was finished, Milhollin had three children and no time to return to school.

Once her children graduated from high school, Milhollin said she decided she wanted to go to TCU. She received full tuition to attend the university after working for TCU in the ID Center for three years.

“Most students are going to school to prepare for a career. I already have a career,” she said. “So for me, it’s kind of to supplement the skills I already have and to just truly enjoy the process of learning.”

Like Milhollin, Christie Shields, a 34-year-old junior English major, said she always planned on attending college. Shields transferred to TCU this semester from Tarrant County College.

“I was always the girl who was going to go to school,” Shields said. “I never did because of money…life happened.”

Shields said she returned to school after almost 15 years. She chose to transfer to TCU, despite the cost, to challenge herself academically.

“Academically, I’m doing awesome,” she said. “I feel like I’m actually ahead of a lot of the people in my classes because I have life experience on top of my academic skill.”

But Shields said she felt she had little in common with other undergraduates socially. Many conversations she overheard were about dorm life or going out partying. Shields said she had trouble relating to younger students, making connections difficult.

“It’s a challenge because I want to get the full benefit of TCU and not just the academics,” Shields said. “But where do I fit into the scheme of things at my age?”

Shields said she works six days a week at Money Management International and that she often has had to do homework at work or get up early in the morning to study. Despite the lack of time, Shields said she was planning to get more involved on campus.

“I’m hoping next semester maybe I can find something that I can get involved in and relate to…where I’m not 14 years older than everyone else,” Shields said.

Like Shields, Milhollin said the difference in life experience between her and younger students presented some difficulties.

“[The students] are my peers in the sense that they are my classmates, but they are not my peers in the sense of experience…so that’s already been a challenge,” Milhollin said. “The kids, though, have been very great and very accepting and inclusive.”

Milhollin said being a nontraditional student made her push herself to excel in her classes.

“I think that I put more pressure on myself to be a top student because I’m older,” she said.

Chris Farley, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program, said he sees a significant number of nontraditional students come through the program.

Farley said he went through TCU’s Ranch Management Program as a nontraditional student as well after more than eight years of working in the oil field business. Although his oil field job paid well, Farley said he knew he wanted to do something different, so he returned to TCU at age 30 to get his Certificate of Ranch Management.

Farley said the Ranch Management Program encouraged students who are older than traditional undergraduates to apply.

“This is a very intense program; it does take somebody who is probably a little more mature than your normal 18-year-old student,” Farley said. He also suggested that older students may come to TCU with more of a drive to learn the material.

“It’s all in the attitude and approach,” Farley said. “They come here really wanting this information…they see the value of it in what they’re going to be doing out in the workforce.”