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Credit: Jess Katz

If everyone in the world were sorted into distinctive groups, I would belong in a group that tests the boundaries of what society deems traditional. Without getting autobiographical, most aspects of my life are nontraditional. 

Growing up, I can honestly say that I never had a college talk with either of my parents. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sure, that came up when I was playing with my Bop It!, but a plan that highlighted academic ambition after high school? Nope, that plan never happened. I had to construct it on my own. It’s been a testing yet fun journey. 

Although my parents were privileged enough to provide me with everything I needed as a child, they lacked the will and experience to introduce me to higher education. My admittance to Penn as a Liberal and Professional Studies BA student changed my outlook on that imperative circumstance and my trajectory.

The LPS BA program offered the opportunity for nontraditional students to obtain an undergraduate degree through the School of Arts and Sciences for over one hundred years until one day it just stopped accepting applications for admission and transitioned into an online degree program. LPS Vice Dean Nora Lewis previously stated that the transition into a solely online program was to increase convenience for working adults. However, I am not sold on the idea of life-changing opportunities simultaneously dwelling with convenience. My time at Penn has not always been convenient but I wouldn’t change my choice to attend for any of those inconvenient instances. Regardless of age, the process of progress and moving forward is often extremely uncomfortable and often times difficult, but it also balanced with the great reward of elevating yourself. It’s worth the inconvenience. 

Like traditional students, LPS students move from around the country and globe to be here. Our less-than conventional path to education should not dictate our window to transcend. The window for people who don't begin college right away needs to continuously stay open to allow for more access, betterment, diversity, and opportunity at Penn. Nontraditional students want to be here just as much as every other student pursuing an education at Penn. Why shouldn’t there be a space for them on campus? Why does the traditional LPS program have to be completely phased out? Why can’t the two programs coexist? The LPS program should not be phased out. It should continue to allow entry and we as a community should recognize its importance before it is too late. Let’s acknowledge the importance of the dreams of nontraditional students and get that application portal reopened. 

Many LPS students that I have spoken to, myself included, were disheartened upon learning of the ending of the LPS BA program because we cherish how much LPS means to us. We appreciate the way we fit in at Penn. The LPS student body is diverse. Many students have served in our military, some juggle family life, and most of us didn't realize what we wanted to accomplish in life until later in the game. We all came to Penn at a time in our lives that fostered the growth we needed to succeed here. Do students like these need to be nixed? No. Combined, our routes contain many different variables but we all share an equal dedication to succeed and strongly contribute to the Penn community.  Nontraditional students should not be barred from attending Penn because they belong here and their addition is inspiring.  

While sitting in my English advisor’s office for over an hour earlier this semester, we chatted about various topics related to the LPS BA program. These topics included the benefits of being exposed to life experiences prior to college, the perspective that experience can create, the ways nontraditional students contribute to the Penn community and what the unfortunate ending of the LPS BA program meant in terms of accessibility for nontraditional students. Many LPS students have pursued great endeavors after completing their undergraduate degrees at Penn, including fellowships, medical school, law school and Ph.D. programs both here and at other prestigious universities. 

Since immersing myself into my academic career at Penn, I have been inspired in many important ways. I have taken on research opportunities, participated in an internship at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, joined BARS, and I am currently working on my application for the History Department’s Honors Thesis Program. I have filled my plate with as much exposure and learning as possible. 

On many occasions I’ve been uplifted and inspired by traditional students. I’ve been brought to tears by professor Simon Richter’s lectures that embodied both heartbreak and rejuvenation; I’ve been enlightened by professor Hocine Fetni’s uprightness and encouragement; I’ve been enticed by professor Melissa Jensen’s approach towards tapping into little minds and writing for children; and I’ve been humbled by professor Roquinaldo Ferreira’s solicitude towards the tragedies that occurred throughout the Bight of Benin during the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Although I have only named a few of the outstanding professors I’ve been privileged enough to be exposed to, as a whole, the knowledge and sophistication that I have received from the professors at Penn will forever be a priceless element of my experience here. 

When you observe the most innate and simplistic elements of humanity, wanting more for yourself and your family ranks at the top of the list. Who gets access to that "more" involves a system that is often unfair and complex. With the ending of the LPS BA program, access to advancing yourself when you identify as a nontraditional student is on the brink of extinction. Once the last of us graduate, our program will fade into history. This reality is a diversion from the foundation Penn was built on. Mr. Franklin founded Penn with accessibility strongly in mind. That foundation should be indefinitely sustained. 

My sadness aside, I will forever be thankful for the opportunities I’ve been exposed to and taken advantage of during my time here. I just wish more nontraditional people were allowed to walk through the Penn doors behind me.  

JESSICA GOODING is a College junior from Philadelphia, Pa. studying History and English. Her email address is jgooding@sas.upenn.edu.

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