What is non-term and why are schools moving that way?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011 there were 17.6 million undergraduates enrolled in higher education institutions. Of that population, 25% of them were over the age of 25 and another 25% were over the age of 30. This number continues to grow as it is estimated that by 2019, students over 25 will increase by another 23%. This new majority filling campuses are called the non-traditional student. Unlike traditional students who are 18-22 years old, fresh out of high school and a dependent of their parents, non-traditional students are typically over the age of 25, financially independent and work full time.

Changes in demographics are most certainly causing a shift in the way education needs to be delivered, but there is also a shift that transcends age, this is the change in consumer expectations. We all want the products and services we pay for to be tailored to meet our needs – so why should something as important and personal as education have a lesser expectation? The need to create a student-centric experience for today’s learners is behind much of the shift to non-term enrollment models, enabling students to progress at their own pace, whether it be faster or slower.

The increase in the number of non-traditional learners coupled with changing consumer behavior makes catering to specific learning needs critical to an institutions ability to successful serve today’s students. This can prove challenging for institutions who structure their programs around traditional models of quarter, semester or trimester terms. Because of this, non-traditional also known as non-term programs have been growing popularity. One of the most important additions to the list of non-traditional delivery models is Competency Based Education (CBE) which takes non-term to an entirely new level, as the time bound element of traditional models is completely removed.

These changes are addressing changing student needs, and have the potential to lower the cost of education. However, there is a hitch… Financial aid management systems have been designed around the concept of a structured period of enrollment. Those institutions that have moved to non-traditional models are faced with manual processes that increase costs, negatively impact service, and present compliance risks. Our Regent Award financial aid management solution is the only solution on the market today that supports all enrollment models-including non-term. Not surprisingly, much of our growth is directly related to our ability to support these non-traditional enrollment models.

What is a Non-term program?

Non-traditional/non-term programs are unique courses offered in institutions that offer more flexibility in course length, start dates and date of completion. Typical characteristics of these programs include:

  • Courses begin and end independently of any term structure.  They may overlap, extend, or accelerate
  • Non-term structure lends itself to self-paced learning via independent study
  • Multiple start dates
  • Courses and/or modules  may be of unequal lengths

Benefits of Non-term programs

For schools that are interested in increasing their total enrollments, adapting non-term programs to their course curriculum could prove beneficial. Adding these programs typically aids in the addition of professional and adult students looking to complete a program that can fit into their busy schedule. They are attractive to non-traditional students as they offer accelerated courses, ability to start anytime throughout the year and completion of degree programs online or close to home. With roughly 71% of U.S. undergraduates defying the college-student stereotype according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more and more students will seek out schools with these programs.

Questions to determine if your school offers non-term programs

The following questions can be used to determine if your school is already offering non-term programs:

  • Do classes start and stop on same dates? (if no – possibly non-term)
  • Is the coursework taken concurrently or sequentially? (sequentially – possibly non-term)
  • Does the coursework overlap from one traditionally defined term into another? (if yes – definitely non-term)

Many schools already offer forms of non-term programs and are unaware or are considering adapting these programs in the near future. Federal aid has also grown to include funding for students enrolled in approved non-term programs. For more information on how to manage financial aid for non-term programs please view our Regent Award page.

Regent Education offers monthly webinars on these topics. For more information on our list of webinars please go to: