A different route
Nontraditional students find success at Chico State
Ashley Whitehead didn’t take the typical route to earning a college degree. During a recent interview, the 34-year-old single mother detailed her on-again, off-again academic journey that culminated last spring in a bachelor’s in philosophy.
Whitehead is part of a population that grapples with challenges beyond those the typical college student faces—from family responsibilities to financial obligations and work constraints. Oftentimes, such obstacles stop promising students from reaching educational goals and pursuing desired careers. However, as Whitehead can attest, there are opportunities on campus for nontraditional students to pursue.
For her, the Associated Students Child Development Lab at Chico State was an essential piece of the puzzle. The lab provides low- and no-cost educational and childcare services to students, staff and faculty. Enrolling her daughter, Sienna, in the lab allowed Whitehead to go to school full-time.
“I wouldn’t [otherwise] have been able to make it financially,” she said.
The facility also provided peace of mind. “It definitely made it a lot easier,” said Whitehead, who plans to go into the university’s teaching credential program. “It really helps knowing she’s right there—safe—on campus with me.”
Others can relate. According to Sally Miller, director of the Child Development Lab, without the facility, attending classes would be difficult for many enrollees, especially those in households with no one else to care for the children.
The lab operates preschool, Head Start and even pre-Head Start programs. It enrolls around 70 children—from 2 months old to kindergarten-age—each semester.
Another nontraditional student who’s finding success at the university is Cheryl McBryde, a 49-year-old English education major and two-time recipient of the Bernard Osher Reentry Scholarship.
Established in 2010 with a $1 million endowment, the scholarship program seeks to assist students in financial need whose education had been interrupted for at least five years by means beyond their control. According to Regional and Continuing Education Program Director Jeff Layne, who has chaired the Reentry Scholarship Committee for the past eight years, 28 scholarships of up to $5,000 were awarded last year alone.
For McBryde, who grew up in a single-parent household, it was hard to start college in the first place. Being interested in English, art, drama and fashion in high school, she visited the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in San Francisco with her mother, but found living expenses in the Bay Area too expensive. She opted instead to study at an FIDM campus in Los Angeles—much farther from her Redding home.
Shortly into her studies, however, McBryde’s mother fell terminally ill and she returned to the North State. A year later, after her mother succumbed to cancer, McBryde stayed home with her sister and the rest of her family. She took general education classes at Shasta College, but with bills piling up, McBryde put college on the backburner. She became focused on working and eventually started a family of her own.
But in 2015, at the age of 48, she returned to the pursuit of higher education. The scholarship allowed her to attend classes at Chico State full time and speed up her graduation. She’ll earn her bachelor’s degree this fall, and plans to apply for the teaching credential program.
McBryde said the scholarship has allowed her to have the “college experience,” join the English honors society, and be engaged on campus in things like going to see guest speakers rather than work.
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to do [any of] that [without the scholarship],” she said. “I would have to go home and get ready to work.”