By Brittnie Curtis
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that some 18 million students were enrolled in undergraduate programs during Fall 2014. Of that amount, 71 percent of them attend four-year colleges (source). Texas State University’s student enrollment for Fall 2014 was 36,739 and nontraditional students made up around 22 percent of the student body (source).
Ellen Crabaugh is a part of that 22 percent. After graduating high school, Crabaugh focused on her family and work. During that time, she was able to complete an associate degree in American Sign Language at the Los Angeles Pierce College after 10 years of hard work.
Crabaugh moved to Wimberley and took a job at Texas State University as an American Sign Language interpreter. That’s when she decided to continue her education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English.
We were able to sit down with Crabaugh and ask her a few questions.
Q.Why did you decide to study at Texas State?
A. I had been trying to get a bachelor’s degree for a long time, and I figured why not? I love the campus, and the more I worked in classrooms with professors, the more I started to think about which professors I would take. I ended up taking a lot of the professors I had worked with here.
Q. How welcoming do you think the campus is to nontraditional students?
A. I have never had a problem. All the students and professors have been great. A lot of the professors I’ve gotten to know better because we’re around the same age. The students seem to watch their language when I’m in the groups. Some will confide in me because I look like their mother. They feel safe because they don’t have to compete with me. I will say that no one’s ever been rude to me. I do get asked if I’m the teacher, but that’s about it.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in comparison to a traditional student?
A. I think in some ways I have it easier than a traditional student because I don’t have anything to prove, I’m not looking to climb a social ladder, and I’m not being called to go party somewhere or go to the beach. I have specific responsibilities, which makes it more difficult but at the same time makes it easier. I think there’s a balancing act on both sides. Traditional students have it easier because they might not have children and house payments, but I don’t have the peer pressure they all have.
Q. How do you manage scheduling school and studying into your daily life?
A. I’m in all of my upper division English classes, so there’s usually lot of writing, and I also work 30 plus hours a week. What I’ve done is schedule my classes around my work schedule. I have classes Tuesday and Thursday and work long shifts Monday and Wednesday. So I have Tuesday afternoon to do homework that’s due on Thursday, and then I have Thursday morning to do what homework I may not have finished before I go to class again. Then I have Saturday and Sunday to do the homework that’s due Tuesday.
Q. What changes do you see after getting your bachelor’s degree?
A. Getting my college degree was mainly for my own edification. My dad, who was 40 years old when he earned his degree, instilled that in me at a young age. As a sign language interpreter, the better I know my native language the better I am at interpreting. If it leads to something else, that’s great; if not, I love what I do.
Q. Do you have any advice for people interested in getting their college degree later on in life?
A. Keep going. It’s easy to want to quit. Don’t stop until you get there. You can still do it. You’re never too old. Just keep doing it. It’s worth it, and the classes are fun. Learning is fun.
If Crabaugh keeps her current pace of two classes per semester, she’ll complete her degree in two more years.
Texas State offers lots of support for nontraditional students, including the Non-Traditional Student Organization, which offers tutoring, scholarships and fun events.