Kim Jeffers

Transition Advisor Kim Jeffers speaks to prospective students at a recent "So You Want to Go to College" informational session on the Lancaster campus.

Photographer: Jennifer LaRue

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Kim Jeffers eases transitions for rising numbers of returning adult learners

This special Compass series features the programs and initiatives through which Ohio University students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends put the OHIO vision into practice every day.

Kim Jeffers can relate to the many nontraditional students who pass through Ohio University's Lancaster campus. She was once in their shoes.

This kinship serves her well as a transition advisor in Lancaster's Office of Student Services, where she works to ease the transition for returning adult learners.   

Roles like Jeffers' are becoming increasingly important to institutions of higher education nationwide as the nontraditional student population – students aged 25 and above – swells.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment of nontraditional students is projected to increase 18.5 percent between 2009 and 2020 – more than double the projected increase for 18- to 24-year old students. If those projections hold true, higher education in the United States will serve more than 9.6 million nontraditional students by 2020.

Nontraditional students are a focus of Ohio University's regional and distance learning programs, where half of undergraduates are 25 and older. Across all OHIO campuses, non-traditional students now make up approximately 26 percent of the total undergraduate population, up from 16 percent in 2001.

The population shift, according to Lancaster's Enrollment Manager Pat Fox, is raising the bar in higher education.

"[Nontraditional students] bring life experiences to class, adding another layer to the learning process," Fox said.

But, as Jeffers knows all too well, returning to academia can be a difficult transition.

To address some of the concerns adult students share in adjusting to college, Jeffers recently created a section in Lancaster's student handbook for nontraditional students, which explains transfer credits, the Academic Computing Skills class, Black Board and other classroom technology. It includes helpful websites, public transportation resources and the Adults Belong in College (ABC)  site.

Jeffers is also exploring an online orientation and a computer literacy placement test to help incoming students assess their skills.

But, according to recent graduate Lori Dunlap, Jeffers best works her magic through advising sessions.

"My first impression of Kim was the sense I had of having met a kindred spirit," Dunlap said. "I always knew that she wanted me to succeed, and I looked forward to our meetings."

Jeffers joined the Lancaster campus as student in 2005, and when the position of campus daycare administrator opened, she applied.  As a former preschool teacher, Jeffers was well versed in early childcare. She was also familiar with Lancaster's daycare program, having used the facility for her own daughters while pursuing her bachelor degree. Faculty and staff also use the state-certified, drop-in care facility for their children.

"I saw the daycare from a parents' point of view. I knew what the children needed," she said.  

As Jeffers spent more time in higher education and with students and families, she realized she wanted to remain in the college environment. Eventually, she secured her current position as an advisor to Bachelor of Specialized Studies (BSS) majors and undecided students.

Having earned a BSS in human development at the Lancaster campus, Jeffers brings a good dose of personal experience to her role as a BSS advisor. 

During a recent "So You Want to Go to College" informational session, Jeffers explained how she used the BSS program as a way to blend her interests in human development and behavior, education, social work and psychology. Through the program, Jeffers now assists students in crafting individualized majors based on their personal interests and areas of expertise.

"Kim was able to strike the balance of allowing me the freedom and autonomy to choose my academic path with offering suggestions of opportunities for things I had not considered," said Dunlap, now an OHIO graduate student who earned a BSS in social and gender studies.

"When I came back to school I was unsure … but knew I wanted a bachelor’s degree. I also saw more of the parents' side. And, I know what it’s like to juggle all of the responsibilities and commitments. It’s important that students know someone who might not have all the answers but who knows the resources," Jeffers said.

She pointed to a certificate of appreciation from student who achieved his higher education goal at age 63.

"My job allows me to lead others toward the path of empowerment," Jeffers said. "I’ve served in the education community from preschool to college, and I’ve found consistencies in the ways that education can be empowering. Education is empowering at any stage in life."

Monica Chapman contributed to this article.