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The Nontraditional Student

by Alexa Victoriano
May 21, 2019

This interview with Alexa Victoriano, Student Trustee of the Los Angeles Community College District Board, was conducted and condensed by frank news. 

Alexa: I'm a non-traditional student. I've been in and out of college for nearly six years. I am, essentially, at the finish line now. I first started in 2012 at Santa Monica City College. A year later, I had to transfer to my closest junior college which was Los Angeles Harbor College due to some family issues.

My first semester at Los Angeles Harbor College I ended up dropping out. I was working fifty hours a week. I just couldn't keep up with school.

I came back the following semester in the spring and ended up getting involved on campus. Spring semester I was working full time but I not fifty hours a week – I was only working your standard thirty-five to forty hours a week. It was the first semester, I think, ever in my educational journey, that I obtained a 3.5 GPA. It was a very big milestone.

I was in college for a good two years, and then, about a year and a half later, I found out I no longer received the Pell Grant because I had exceeded units for a Political Science and Communications Study major. Since then, I've been paying for class out of pocket. In 2016, I graduated from Los Angeles Harbor College but found out I was only receiving a A.A.S in Social Behavioral – not a Political Science degree. The college would have to offer an additional Political Science course to offer the degree. I worked so hard for it, why not finish? I had to go to a different campus that did offer it. Even though I remained in the same district and I had all my units and I could stay for one more course to graduate and obtain the degree, I still had to obtain residency in order to obtain the degree. I'm now at East Los Angeles College trying to obtain that degree.

That’s been my educational journey.

It's interesting you call yourself a nontraditional student –  I wonder how traditional your trajectory actually is, how many journeys are similar to yours within American higher education?

You're right, there's so many interesting stories.

About 44% of California Community College students graduate within 6 years. That’s 44% of nearly 2.1 million students that end up being nontraditional students, simply because there's no clear path.

There's a maze.

The maze

clearing the maze

Who do you focus your advocacy on, and how do you share the information?

AB 705 recently passed. It regards assessment testing for first-time students. I partnered with the Campaign for College Opportunity to advocate for AB 705. The vote calls for incoming freshman to no longer have to take the assessment test, so they can jump straight into college-level courses. I’ve been able to advocate for folks like myself, who are proficient in math or excelled in AP courses, but are not good at testing – we are good at applying our skills. Remedial courses have set back many students like myself, and in a way waste our grants, Board of Governors fee waiver (now known as the College Promise), and financial aid in courses we know we will excel in .

I partner with various organizations, and provide the student perspective. Really, my thing has always been, how do I make it relational versus transactional? I think that has stuck with other students in joining any movement that may affect them.

What are your advocacy goals moving forward?

I see myself doing higher ed policy. Whether that's through a non-profit or working as a state legislature, I definitely want to focus more on the higher ed policy.

What sort of policy?

I see my larger focus at the community college level – you know, I come from a community college. The biggest thing would be, how do we provide more support for our continuing students? How do we address affordability and flexibility to our incoming freshman? How do we get students out from a two-year college to a four-year college, or a certificate, or whatever their educational goals may be?

I haven't seen policies that affect current students. We see a lot of focus on the incoming freshman, which is great because at least they won't have to go through the struggles that we did, but then we're sort of left in the air, and it's like, "Well, what do we do now?"

What do you think the answer to that question is?

I think the answer is, we need more resources for current students. There is a need to expand existing programs, extend the credit gap, and take into account how long the student has been in and out of college, whether or not they're nontraditional.

Look at what's happening at The Department of Education at the Federal level. We need more folks, especially administration, to invite students to have a seat with the people making decisions. They need to take us seriously.

We may be students, but the folks that know how to change policy for students are always going to be students.

They're going to have first-hand experience. Most of the time, we're not taken seriously. We're taken as a joke. It's like, "Oh, you don't know what you're talking about." How would I not know what I'm not talking about?