“College Completion Must Be Our Priority,” a recently released report by a commission of the nation’s leading advocates and institutions in higher education, calls for college and university leaders to increase graduate rates and better serve its ever-changing student demographics.

The report, released by the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment, calls on colleges and universities to provide more services to nontraditional students in order to allow for increased student graduation.

According to the report, student population is no longer solely composed of 18- to 22-year-old students, and in recent years there has been a nationwide increase of part time students, veterans and students with families of their own. Unlike traditional students, these students have to face different challenges during their educational career, such as juggling jobs or taking care of their family.

UCSB Educational Opportunity Program counselor Joanna Hernandez said many students face a variety of external struggles that slow their progress toward graduation.

“[Students have] mental health issues, financial issues, personal problems — these are all the usual, typical issues people come in [to my office] to discuss,” Hernandez said.

According to Hernandez, affording college — specifically during a slow economy — has forced many students to take out loans, both on campus and nationwide.

“It’s very scary for students to think that taking out a loan is a good idea when they see [other] people going through housing crisis,” Hernandez said. “[But] without them taking out a loan they can’t really afford to come here.”

Third-year global studies major Jazmin Sanchez, a student who recently re-enrolled into UCSB after leaving due to financial issues, said she has struggled to socialize and be involved on campus after a three-year absence.

“There is definitely an age difference from the people I’m in classes with, and that has been the toughest part — finding people my age, or just even getting to know people who have already built their own circle of friends,” Sanchez said.

However, Sanchez said UCSB has been particularly successful at tending to her needs.

“As a nontraditional student I think they have definitely been helpful as far as resources go,” Sanchez said. “As far as just even offering a space, locker or fridge in the SRB, they’ve definitely been very helpful in showing us what there is we could use.”

According to “College Completion Must Be Our Priority,” universities undergoing an all time high number of applicants — like the UC system — must similarly be followed up by high retention and graduation rates.

In light of the lack of student retention and graduation rates from nontraditional students, Hernandez said students at UCSB should not forget that resources and guidance is available to them by EOP.

“As an EOP counselor I genuinely care about student success…and whatever I can do to help them navigate through these challenges,” Hernandez said. “[I care] not just that [students] are surviving but thriving on campus and … have a place to go and belong.”

A version of this article appeared on page 3 of February 1st, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.