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Community Colleges: A Nurturing Environment for the Nontraditional Student

A nontraditional student gives a first-hand account of community colleges as a nurturing environment for the nontraditional student.

Lisa Hardman

September 23, 2007

Community Colleges: A Nurturing Environment for the Nontraditional Student

The massive, concrete block building looms frigidly over a flat expanse of green lawn. It’s a far cry from the red-tiled roofs and ivy-covered walls of University of Colorado Boulder. There are no breathtaking views of the nearby Flat Irons here. Instead, wedged between commuter traffic on Santa Fe Avenue and quaint, old-town Littleton, rests my new scholastic home – Arapahoe Community College. It’s certainly not pretty, but it has everything I need right now – flexibility, affordability, and opportunity.


Returning to school after an 18-year hiatus from a large university took mental readjustment. I first had to look realistically at what options were available to me – a full-time mother of five energetic children and wife of a “frequent flyer” husband. Was it even within the realm of possibility to return to school at this stage of my life? After researching several online and distance learning programs, I was pleasantly surprised by the flexible options available through Internet technology. My local community college offered the widest variety of class formats. There was an array of choices: accelerated classes, hybrid classes, telecourses, late start, evening and weekend classes. I also discovered that nearly every general education class was offered online - allowing me to plug away at my degree and remain at home with my little ones. After considering all the alternatives, I decided to enroll in one online class and one on-campus class at ACC this semester.

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The next consideration for me was cost. The “sticker shock” of returning to school nearly kept me from realizing my dream. Again I turned to the community college to compare price tags. A friend of mine who recently completed her bachelor’s degree recommended I pursue an associate of arts transfer degree at Arapahoe Community College and then transfer to a four-year institution as she had done. An advisement counselor confirmed this option as a great way to stretch my education dollars. Student fees at the community college were unexpectedly modest, too. For under $10, I can park on campus for the entire year. Now that’s value!


Perhaps the best thing my community college offers is the opportunity to ease back into the rigors of the academic world with a more personalized and friendly college experience. More accommodating and less intimidating than large campuses, the smaller class sizes at community colleges allow for more individualized attention. I have already found the professors cooperative and pleasant to work with. I feel that they value and welcome my experience and knowledge as a nontraditional student. I’ve noticed that many of the departments at my community college also offer additional certification programs, awards, scholarships and recognition for students who excel in their classes. As an English major, I plan to be actively involved in the ACC’s Writers’ Studio – a community for writers offering visiting authors, readings and literary contests.

Although Arapahoe Community College’s facility is built in the architectural style known as “Brutalism,” my experience so far has been anything but harsh. Because of the flexibility, affordability and opportunity it provides, I am looking forward to this new phase of my life. For a nontraditional student who has been away from academia for nearly two decades, this community college is providing a nurturing environment where I can rebuild my self-esteem and intellectual confidence one class at a time.

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