Josh Orange has a unique tattoo on his forearm: the word fritänkare. It’s Swedish for freethinker, and it’s in his grandmother's handwriting. It’s also representative of his path to earning a college degree.

Although Orange started like many 18-year-olds, he didn’t end up taking a typical path. After graduating high school, Orange enrolled at John Tyler Community College. When he decided to move out on his own, he had to focus on work. Working full time to pay his bills quickly took priority over going to school, and he dropped out.

After working for a few years, Orange was more career focused. He knew what he wanted to do for a living and what kind of education he needed to help him get there. Better yet, he was in a place to commit to school again. Based on a recommendation from a friend, Orange applied and enrolled at the School of Professional & Continuing Studies (SPCS).

“I first heard of SPCS from a recommendation from a friend,” Orange recalled. “And I wanted a school that understood my busy schedule and was willing to work with young professionals.”

Now 25, Orange is representative of a large demographic shift SPCS has seen recently in its students over the last ten years. In 2007, a majority of SPCS students were over 35. Students in their 20s have grow significantly since then and now make up almost half of the SPCS student population.

This is part of a national trend. A 2012 Harvard University study found that fewer than 60% of students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years. These statistics are also supported by the National Student Clearinghouse. The increase in college drop-out rates has created an influx of 20- and 30-somethings returning to school to compete their degrees.

As such, it is important for colleges and universities that serve nontraditional students to understand that they have unique needs. Orange sees that understanding every time he comes to class. Balancing work, school and social life are a big challenge, but Orange says the faculty are incredibly supportive.

“The professors are understanding and caring about our schedules,” noted Orange. ”They’re willing to work with us.”

As a human resource management student, Orange has been able to expand his knowledge of his chosen career field. The role and scope of HRM is expanding across all aspects of business, and he’s excited to learn this directly from professors with years of experience in the field. But as an adult student, Orange is also constantly learning from his fellow students. Despite their busy schedules, they bring a lot of passion to our classwork and class discussions.

“My fellow students are inspiring,” explained Orange. “I’ve learned so much from them.”

As a young professional, Orange is using his educational experience to shape his career path. He’s taken advantage of UR’s Career Services to build his resume and LinkedIn page. He’s an active member of the student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). He hopes to become a certified HR professional by earning designations from SHRM. He’s also set his sights on moving into leadership role, and going back to school will help him get there.

“My long-term goals would be to continue working in employee benefits, eventually moving into a leadership role,” shared Orange. “And I know I’ll feel confident walking into an interview for a leadership role with a bachelor’s degree from UR.”