Universities that are recruiting older students often leave them floundering

Heching Report

PORTLAND, Ore. — Under gray skies, smiling 8- and 9-year-olds in shiny raincoats skip across the Portland State University campus. Infants and toddlers are napping in the student center.

These aren’t necessarily child prodigies. They belong to students who have come to college later in their lives than traditional undergraduates.

Twenty-two percent of the 28,000 students at the university are parents — half of them raising kids alone. Sixty-eight percent work at least part time and 44 percent full time or more, 1,500 are military veterans, and almost two-thirds have transferred from somewhere else. The average age is 27.

Woven into the city’s downtown, where several bus and trolley lines converge, Portland State provides them with child care, family-friendly study lounges and commencements, lactation rooms, a streamlined transfer review process, emergency short-term loans and instructors who understand the time constraints of parents and other nontraditional-aged students who have outside jobs and financial obligations.

“It would be harder at a traditional university because there are sort of expectations like that after school you can just go home and do this project and tomorrow have it ready,” said Jade Souza, a 36-year-old divorced mother of three who is close to getting her bachelor’s degree, in Spanish language and literature.