Chico State newsletter celebrating campus diversity fall 2012

A Second Chance at Education for Re-entry Students: Increasing Student’s Sense of Belonging

By: Kelsey Hilton
reentry student

Chico State re-entry student attending the Re-Entry Welcome Reception at Sylvester's Café.

The first day of a collegiate career can be intimidating for any first-time freshman, but having relatable peers helps students develop a sense of belonging. For a re-entry student returning to school later in life, the first day of college courses can be even more overwhelming.

The majority of re-entry students are about 10 years older than the average 19-year-old undergraduate. Coming back to school later in life can be a challenge for many students and include an added pressure to succeed.

For re-entry student Tamara Braden, the experience of coming back to school as a single parent with five children was one of the more challenging experiences in her life, but it was also one that made the most impact, she said.

“I felt really out of place because I was 38 at that point,” Braden said. “So after that first semester, I realized ‘OK, this is something I can do,’ and after that first semester, I kind of got my confidence and I started making friends with people.”

What is a Re-entry Student?

Traditionally, the definition of a re-entry student is any undergraduate student over the age of 25 who has had a gap of three or more years in his or her formal education.

Re-entry students make up about 12 percent of the total student population at Chico State, and this number is growing. This sector of students needs to be acknowledged with the same respect as first-time freshmen; they also need additional support services.

Jenn Duggan, admissions evaluator and former re-entry student, felt like the “unpopular kid in school that no one wanted to hang out with.” She decided to implement an event to assist the different types of re-entry students so that they too can develop the sense of belonging that she later found at Chico State.

Career advisor Jodie Rettinhouse helped Duggan establish the Welcome Reception for Re-entry Students this semester. It was designed as a discussion about the triumphs and tribulations that come with being a returning student, as well as inform students about support services on campus.

Faculty and staff are dedicated to students and want to extend their own knowledge and resources to help students find their pathway to success. The welcome reception was the first step toward making that happen for re-entry students.

Not all re-entry students have the support of significant others, family, and friends. Many of these students are single parents who have to juggle working full time, going to school, and raising a family.

This was the reality for Braden. At one point, she was working three jobs in order to support her family. Braden was urged to return to school when she received a scholarship after a 10-year break from school.

“I got so sucked into life that I didn’t really think about going back to school,” Braden said. “It just didn’t seem like it could ever be a reality, but once I got that scholarship, it felt like doors opened and things changed.”

In the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, Chico State had additional resources tailored for re-entry students. There was an appointed advisor who directly assisted re-entry students, but once this faculty member retired, most of the organized activities and organizations for re-entry students went away as well.

Tamara in a grad cap and grown

Re-entry student Tamara Braden at graduation in May 2012. Photo courtesy of Tamara Braden

Chico State Faculty and Staff Encourage a Reinstatement of a Re-entry Student Club

Duggan is adamant about pushing for a re-entry student club or organization on campus by spring 2013 to increase students’ sense of belonging.

“One of my goals for services for re-entry students is to really have the club or organization be student run, so that it can be passed down generation to generation through students,” Duggan said.

This will allow the organization to continue to flourish and not be affected by whether or not there is a specialized advisor who oversees the group, Duggan said.

It is important not to generalize re-entry students. Each group of students on campus is diverse, and each individual within that group is unique. The common theme among these groups is the notion that students thrive in an inclusive environment where they can communicate openly and express themselves in order to reach their academic goals.

The prospective club will act as a support system open to all Chico State students to ensure they receive the true Chico experience and get the support they need and deserve.