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Non-traditional students diversify campus

Photo courtesy of Jordan Clarke
Clarke poses for graduation pictures with his dog.

Murray State is a campus of diverse individuals from various cultural, situational and socioeconomic backgrounds. For soon-to-be Murray State graduate Jordan Clarke, his path to education was a journey of perseverance, defying expectations and self-discovery.

Clarke is classified as a non-traditional student, which makes up a substantial portion of our on-campus community.

Alison Marshall, associate director of the transfer center and adult student liaison, estimated that these students constitute approximately 17-18% of the total student population, encompassing the main and five regional campuses.

The non-traditional route to higher education often highlights a narrative of resilience that is both unique and inspiring.

Clarke’s education journey was characterized by numerous obstacles, beginning with his dyslexia diagnosis in kindergarten. As a result, he was enrolled in special needs classes throughout his primary and secondary schooling. 

Clarke said because of the nature of his disability, it was not expected of him to pursue higher education. 

College wasn’t a big emphasis on me,” Clarke said. “A lot of folks said I wasn’t going to make it through college, so I didn’t think about it. I thought about trade schools and such.” 

After graduating from Trigg County High School in 2004, Clarke enrolled in  Hopkinsville Community College (HCC). However, this section of his education journey was short-lived, halting after one year. Clarke attributed this to his lack of maturity.

“I was blowing it and treating it like the 13th grade,” Clarke said. 

After leaving HCC, Clarke transitioned into a role as a waiter on the cruise line, allowing him to travel the world. This opportunity came to his attention through a flyer he stumbled upon while still attending college classes. 

For the following two years, Clarke matured significantly as he engaged with diverse cultures, advanced within his role and learned how to balance work and social commitments. 

Utilizing the experience he gained during his time on the cruise, Clarke transitioned into working at fine dining establishments as a waiter

Over the next 15 years, Clarke shifted his focus to pursue blue-collar manual labor positions.

“They (the jobs) were what I had to do to make a good paycheck,” Clarke said. “Long hours, sometimes 12-hour shifts, sometimes 6-7 days a week. But I made good money doing it, so I did it.”

In 2018, Clarke held a position as a technician at a factory. However, during a period of steel crisis, the company faced downsizing, resulting in Clarke losing his job. Unable to afford the cost of living, Clarke, at the age of 30, found himself moving back in with his mother.

This unfortunate event served as a catalyst, pointing Clarke back to the pursuit of higher education.

With the hope of better working conditions and finding fulfillment in a career, Clarke decided to go back to HCC in 2019. Once graduating with his associates, he was admitted into Murray State in 2021.

“For being an older student, this… was the thing I was kind of yearning for,” Clarke said. “I was tired of taking orders from people. I was tired of just working the dead-end job over and over again. So it was nice having the ability to really expand and flex myself.”

Throughout Clarke’s time at Murray State, he has been active in various aspects of campus culture. Clarke resided in College Courts and participated in student organizations such as the Economics and Finance Club and the College Democrats.

Despite his non-traditional educational journey, Clarke will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a minor in accounting at the end of the summer. 

Murray State provides non-traditional students with a variety of resources in order to ensure they receive the necessary support and assistance to be successful in their academic pursuits.  This includes TRiO Support Services, Office of Student Disability and Counseling Services.  

Marshall said these students have life experiences that can add different perspectives to the University community. 

It is essential that these adult students are not only included but celebrated within the university learning environment. Their presence enhances the diversity on campus and enriches the educational community for all at Murray State.

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Madison Miller, Contributing writer

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