A mother of three. A son repaying his father’s sacrifice. A district manager becoming a lifelong learner. A woman’s career dream realized.

The college landscape has changed, and so have Baker’s students. Not everyone starts college right after high school. Many choose a nontraditional path: working before attending school, taking time to have a family before continuing in a program, or earning a degree to advance in their career or change careers.

Nontraditional students—age 25 and older who take time before starting their undergraduate degree—face a specific set of challenges when making the decision to attend college, one that bestvalueschools.org is well aware of. In its ranking of Top 50 Colleges for Older Students, Baker University was ranked 26th for its student-focused education.

Craig Ahrens, a district manager for Lennox Industries, decided to return to school for his Bachelor of Arts in Business Leadership after graduating with an associate degree in 1987. Ahrens looked at other universities, but none provided the personal touch that Baker did.

“I met with Lisa Hood, who was so knowledgeable about the programs I decided to move forward with Baker,” he said. “Throughout my time at Baker University the professors have been great; however, I cannot leave out my counselor Carol Reed. She, with no question, has been extremely supportive. I am not quite sure what I am going to do without her after I graduate.”

After graduating with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2010, Jessica Shippee wanted to pursue a career in nursing education. In May, she graduated with her Master of Science in Nursing from Baker, the first student to graduate from the new program.

“When applying for schools, it was an easy decision for me to choose Baker,” Shippee said. “I was motivated by the smaller class size and campus being located at Stormont Vail. Coming from a larger university, I was looking for more individualized instruction and strong nursing leaders to show me how to be a successful nurse.”

When Gurbhushan Singh was 17 years old, his family immigrated to the United States from India. His father worked two jobs in order to offer his children the opportunities he had lacked. Singh wanted to repay his fathers’ sacrifice by earning his doctoral degree by age 44. Singh celebrated his 44th birthday in February 2016 and graduated with his Doctor of Education in Leadership in Higher Education from Baker University that December.

“[Baker’s program boasts] very realistic curriculum that incorporates current practices in higher education, focused on teamwork, collaboration, and student success,” Singh said. “I use all of my experiences from Baker each and every day now.”

Emily Elliott is a single mother of two who has always wanted to be a school choral director. Her previous college experience “left a lot to be desired,” she said. So when her children were old enough to be in school, she enrolled at Baker University. She credits the helpful Baker faculty and staff, especially the Office of Financial Aid, for laying out a plan for all four years that would lead to achieving her dream of earning a Bachelor of Music Education.

“My most favorite thing about attending Baker has to be that I am a person first and not an enrollment number,” Elliott said. “If you don’t show up to class for any reason, people want to know if you are okay. People truly care about your goals and your dreams.”

Danielle Yearout, vice president of enrollment, says stories like these highlight the importance of working with nontraditional students.

“Our focus at Baker is to make a college education possible for everyone, regardless of where they are coming from,” Yearout said. “Recognition from bestvalueschools.org shows us that our efforts are producing real results.”

For Jessica Atherton, a single mom of two wanting a better life for her family, an education created with students like her in mind changed her future.

“In December of 2016, I finished school,” said Atherton, who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Business Leadership. “I finally had a degree, 17 years after first starting this process. Everything that happened in those 17 years shaped the person I am today. It was not an easy process at any step of the way, but Baker’s seamless program made staying the course possible, and I am forever grateful for the ability to make this dream come true.”