By Amanda Castro-Crist
While campaigning for the position of Texas Tech Student Government Association President last spring, Ben Sharp, a senior economics major and current SGA president, said he had the opportunity to speak with a few non-traditional students who attend the university.
“I began to think, ‘I’ve been in SGA for three years now and I don’t think we’ve ever had a non-traditional student issue raised’,” Sharp said. “There’s probably a pretty decently sized population.”
While non-traditional students are often classified as being over the age of 24, the National Center for Education Statistics also lists other types of students in this category. Some are those who put off enrolling in a college or university immediately after graduating high school or who attend college part-time. Others are students who work full-time, are financially independent or have dependents other than a spouse. Single parents and students who did not receive a standard high school diploma are also included.
“As we started looking into it, we realized that a lot of these non-traditional students are also veterans,” Sharp said.
Earlier this semester, Sharp was approached by Adam Disque, a junior environmental engineering major. Disque, an Air Force veteran and vice president of the Texas Tech Veteran’s Association, shared input he received from other veterans and concerns he had as a student veteran.
“A lot of veterans bring their families here – I’d say the majority of them have kids or at least have been married. Most of us have combat experience. We’re older,” Disque said. “There are just so many different challenges of being a veteran and coming back to school.”
Sharp said while not all of the issues student veterans and non-traditional students face are the same, there are many similarities.
“It just made sense to roll them into one,” Sharp said. “I was like, ‘Why don’t we combine these initiatives and make this commission to look at issues surrounding students veterans and non-traditional students?’”
The result was the creation of the Student Government Executive Commission for Veteran and Non-Traditional Affairs with Disque as chairman. Col. Lou Ortiz, director of the Texas Tech Military and Veterans Program, also serves on the commission, along with students Doug Guberman and Julianna Kilpatrick, and SGA senators Katarina Wagman and Rebecca Barnes.
Disque said the commission has already begun work to address some of the more crucial matters facing student veterans and other non-traditional students. He also has had help from his wife, Bethany, a sociology graduate student whose research focuses on student veterans and their transition into an academic setting.
The student veteran population is one Bethany Disque considers a minority group on campus and one that can have very distinct needs. She said while Texas Tech is good at promoting diversity, there is still work that needs to be done.
“I think if a university wants to do its job to educate people, they can’t just paint everyone with the same brush,” Bethany Disque said. “Student veterans often have very different experiences than most other people and I think those experiences need to be taken into account when it comes to their education.”
One of the issues these students face includes the process to apply for scholarships at Texas Tech, which he said does not really allow veterans to give an accurate description of their service.
“I would say that it just needs a couple of tweaks with the verbiage,” Adam Disque said. “From a veteran’s standpoint, it’s difficult for us to pinpoint one specific experience. It was a lifestyle. How am I supposed to communicate what war was like to an education setting?”
Two other topics the commission has discussed are issues students with families and dependents face. Texas Tech has no dependent housing on campus, adding a burden to those who are already unfamiliar with the area and struggling to adjust. Adam Disque said there is also a significant lack of child care options on campus, adding another hardship to students trying to focus on their studies.
“When you have a family and you’re attending school full-time, the childcare expenses don’t stop,” Adam Disque said, adding other expenses like healthcare, phone bills and transportation add even more stress to a student’s life.
Off-campus childcare does not just cause financial stress. Adam Disque said these students also miss out on things like study sessions and peer-to-peer networking because they have to leave campus to pick up or check on their children.
There is a distinct disconnect when a student spends less time on campus, another issue the commission hopes to tackle.
Adam Disque said many of the students they are hoping to help miss out on athletic and campus events and traditions because even with free admission for students, it is still often too expensive to bring their families to events. The commission is brainstorming several ideas to remedy this, including discussing a way for ticket holders to donate extra tickets or introducing an additional athletic fee that includes a spouse and/or children.
Sharp said the members of the commission hope to bring recommendations on these issues by early next semester. He wants the student veterans and non-traditional students to know that SGA supports and represents them just as they do all other students on campus.
“We want every student at Texas Tech to feel they have the tools and the resources they need to be successful,” Sharp said. “If we are doing a less than stellar job serving a certain population on campus, we want to know about it so that we can do a better job addressing those issues.”