Non-traditional college experience

Blacksburg, Va., April 12Seeing the Light: Nicole Sutphin, senior communication studies major. After years of schooling, graduation is around the corner. Photo: Courtney Flickinger

by Courtney Flickinger–

School is a major part of everyone’s lives from the age of five. As school progresses throughout the twelve grades, there is one thing that is always an end goal for parents and teachers. Everyone wants to see students succeed and go to college. While there are a number of students who do follow this traditional path, there are many others who decide to go back to college later.

According to an article titled “Adult College Students: The Uncovered 6.6 Million,” adults make up 35% of the overall college population across the country.

Nicole Sutphin, a senior at Virginia Tech, is doing things a little differently. After attending college right out of high school, Sutphin dropped out after a year and a half because of poor academic achievement and a lack of love for her university. While living in Louisiana at the time, Sutphin says she felt pressured by her family to go to college, but at the time her heart was not in it.

Eventually, Sutphin went back and received an associates degree only four days before giving birth to her now 11-year-old son. While trying to continue her education toward a bachelors degree, Sutphin said she dropped out multiple times because she was working full-time along with being a full-time student. According to a report by the Public Agenda, “The number one reason students give up leaving school is the fact that they had to work and go to school at the same time and, despite their best efforts, the stress of trying to do both eventually took its toll.”

Despite all of this, Sutphin went back to school and began working at Virginia Tech along with her studies. She said, “going back was a daunting experience, it was frightening.” Working as a graduate programs coordinator, she works with faculty and students daily. Sutphin added, “being in the classroom with the students really helped me understand them more for my job, I felt just like one of them.” In May, Sutphin will join the class of 2019 and graduate with her bachelor’s degree.

Although it did take Sutphin an extended period of time to graduate, she is not the only one in this position. According to the New York Times, only 57 percent of students who enroll in college will graduate within the first six years.

David Sutphin, Nicole’s husband, said he worries about his wife’s mental health as she is responsible for so many things every day. Between her family, a full-time job, and full-time college demand, she rarely has time to relax. Sutphin said, “she rarely sleeps more than five hours a night and has battled several health issues over the years.” He said he is looking forward to more family time again soon. Sutphin’s son, on the other hand, is very proud of his mother. 11-year-old Clayton says he can’t wait to follow his mother’s footsteps and go to Virginia Tech in the future.

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The graphic above is a link to the full version.