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Juggling Life & School: Non-traditional college students succeeding in Arkansas

There are many options for non-traditional students seeking a college degree from the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.

ARKANSAS, USA — Our first report in our bi-monthly education series covers non-traditional college students. 

There are many elements that fall under the umbrella of non-traditional, the most common being those who go to college later in life.

Statistics from the National Center for Education report about 70% of higher education students fall under the non-traditional category. 

Jodie Cabanilla of Van Buren is one of those students/ She already has one associates degree from the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith (UAFS) and will have another this spring.

"It was really important to me to have a good career for my children," Cabanilla said. "I wanted to let them know that even though they were little I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted to make my dads proud of me I lost them earlier."

Cabanilla and her husband run a repair shop for refrigeration trucks and says her degrees make the job of running the office much easier.

Mavis Lawson of Cedarville earned her 4-year degree at UAFS in IT. She went to college right after the Whirlpool plant closed several years ago.

"I think if whirlpool hadn’t shut down I probably wouldn’t have," Lawson said. 

Both Lawson and Cabanilla say they were a bit nervous stepping into the classroom with people who were younger than them. 

"I don’t think that it was as much of a challenge as when you’re a freshman in college because you have more life skills you have more experience but it was definitely nerve-wracking," Cabanilla said. 

They both say juggling family life and college wasn't easy.

"I still had two stepsons at home and they had activities and it was hard to find the time to study," Mavis said. 

Both agree though that going to college later in life was worth it. 

"No matter how old you are, you can do it," Cabanilla said. "It doesn’t matter what obstacles are in your way, you can always find a way to make it happen."

"I had a very positive experience and I wouldn’t trade that for anything," Mavis said. 

Mavis, using her IT degree and now MBA, owns and runs a web development company. 

There are a number of organizations and clubs on the UAFS campus to help non-traditional students.

Below is a list of resources for those looking to pursue a degree from UAFS as a non-traditional student.

  • NTS is a recognized student organization at UAFS that offers free membership, support, activities, and leadership opportunities for currently enrolled students and those who support them in their educational journey.
  • Financial aid of $6,000 over four years or until degree completion is offered for some students over 25
  • Through the Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP) at UAFS, non-traditional students in the workforce can advance their careers by earning a college degree through a streamlined education experience. UAFS uses a nationally recognized method of awarding college credit for your experience, whether it's from work, military education, or training and/or certificate programs

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