QUINCY -- Back in 1964, Bob Dylan, the troubadour of his time, cautioned his listeners with a simple message.
"The times," Dylan sang, "they are a changin'."
More than a half century later, those prophetic lyrics continue to ring even truer, especially when higher education and local workforces are the topics.
A college student was once looked upon, for the most part, as recently graduated from high school and somewhere in the midst of a plan that would allow for graduation from college in what was considered the traditional four-year period.
Those times have changed and quite dramatically.
Today's traditional student has become yesterday's nontraditional student.
The U.S. Department of Education estimates somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of current undergraduates would have been categorized as nontraditional students 25 years ago.
The times are more than changin'. And they have changed right before our eyes.
The majority of today's college students fit up to three of the following seven ?characteristics, North Carolina based-research firm RTI International said, and more than 70 percent fulfill at least one of the descriptions:
º Financially independent from their parents.
º Have a child or other dependent.
º Are the sole, single caregiver.
º Lack a traditional high school diploma.
º Delayed post-secondary education.
º Attend college part-time.
º Are employed full-time.
Sandeep Chahal, 36, and his wife, Simran, 33, are classic examples of new-age students who a few years ago would have been categorized as nontraditional but are now more or less mainstream.
Sandeep and Simran are both natives of India who have strengthened their professional resumes through the business program at Quincy University. They also manage the Quality Inn and Suites hotel in Hannibal, Mo., and are raising an infant.
"I like challenges," Sandeep said.
So does his wife.
"We have a lot on our plates," said Simran, who also studied at John Wood Community College and Hannibal-LaGrange University.
Sandeep's family moved to the United States when he was a teenager. Education was always stressed in the Chahal household, and at one time, he was leaning toward a career in medicine, but his true passion was for the business world.
"My family always looked at the U.S. as a place of opportunity," said Sandeep, whose closest relatives are now based in Louisiana.
Simran has been in America about a decade and lived in California before meeting Sandeep. At one time, she was working in a gas station.
"I realized I should be exploring more opportunities," she said.
The Chahals have been married for 21/2 years and have supported each other in pursuit of their professional goals.
"I want to be a CEO someday," Sandeep said.
Simran, too, is working to carve out a career in business.
"Sometimes you need to struggle to change yourself," she said.
The Chahals both said the support they have received during their studies at QU has been an integral part of their success.
"We were encouraged and want to pass that on," Simran said. "We both want to touch people."
The Chahals' story of returning to education later in life is closer to the norm than the exception, so the comments of Roy Lantry should come as no surprise.
"Forecasts are that 70 percent of future growth in higher education will involve nontraditional students -- or those 25 and older," said Lantry, director of special projects at QU, who also has a history of work in the St. Louis and metro east areas.
Lantry said QU is developing curriculum fundamentals for its outreach that will target the nontraditional -- or older -- student.
"The groundwork began being laid, in earnest, early this year," Lantry said.
Teresa Reed, vice president for academic affairs at QU, is excited about a greater accent on the nontraditional student.
"There are a lot of ways to define a nontraditional student," she said. "One size does not fit all, and we want to make sure we provide the support they (all) need."
The volume of online courses will continue to grow, which is important in attracting adults with jobs and families.
"We will maintain a brick-and-mortar approach (traditional classrooms and students), but we will also have a robust online program," Reed said. "Both can meet the demands and desires of students, allowing the customization of classes. It's like a restaurant menu, creating more choices.
"For example, online courses are often much easier for the nontraditional students because of work and family demands. It's a flexible (type of) education. Change is coming across the board. It's going to be a different mode of teaching and delivery."
Reed expects this approach to grow as more adults need to build on past education for an ever-changing work environment.
QU President Phil Conover says the learning landscape has evolved, and universities must follow. He emphasized nontraditional students will be an important segment of the core of QU's future enrollment.
"If we do this right, I don't think you will recognize QU in five to seven years," he said. "We feel this is the right thing at the right time, reacting to the (workplace) climate and looking at the needs of the region."
Conover said studies QU has done and information it has gathered indicate:
º Quincy and the surrounding area boast more than 100 manufacturers.
º There is a workforce of 18,000 people, but Conover said "many have not completed their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees."
º That workforce population is aging, and 40 percent will become eligible to retire in the next five to eight years.
"Our responsibility is to respond to the community," Conover said.
Reed expects QU to be a regional focal point with this kind of mindset. The need is there, she said.
Conover said, "We are in a position to satisfy that need and are able to pull students from West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa. This community needs QU to be a leader and help stabilize local industry for the future."
QU plans to increase its capacity to provide paths for nontraditional students and improve their chances for upward mobility.
"Some may hesitate to come back, but with other -- or more -- nontraditional students they may feel more comfortable," Lantry said.
The Chahals are an early example of this and have benefited greatly.
"QU helped fulfill our dreams," said Sandeep, who talked about learning "valuable leadership skills" in business offerings at the university. "Professors and advisers proved invaluable in their overall assistance and knowledge."
Conover said 42 percent of QU graduates stay in the region.
"It is the hope of Quincy University to become an important component to overall economic development and specifically address workforce concerns," Conover said. "The total platform for nontraditional students can encompass far more than the manufacturing workforce. It can involve the banking community, the health care community, the education community, the agribusiness community and the product distribution community."
The bottom line is simple, QU officials say.
"We want to be responsive to the students and the community," Reed said.