WESTMINSTER — Katherine Shaw didn't expect to fit in with the other students enrolled in the January term at Western Maryland College.
At 44, Shaw, the mother of five grown children and a part-time substitute teacher,was a non-traditional student in the truest sense.
"I knew this was a wonderful opportunity for me," Shaw said. "ButI've been a little nervous. I really didn't expect to fit in."
Her worries were for naught. The transition from community college to asmall liberal arts college was smooth for Shaw and about a dozen other non-traditional students, ranging in age from 19 to 66.
Shaw and the others are pursuing associate degrees at either Carroll Community College or its parent institution, Catonsville Community College.
The January term, which offers a limited selection of courses, hasbeen available at WMC for two decades. About 400 students take classes during the three-week session. Only in the past two years, however, have non-traditional students become a featured part of the program.
Recognizing that minority students are the least likely to continue their educations at four-year institutions, Catonsville CommunityCollege inaugurated the January Term Institute last year.
Also sponsored by WMC, the term allows non-traditional students to experience campus life and encourages them to continue their education beyond a two-year degree, preferably at a liberal arts college.
Qualifiedstudents, those with high grade-point averages and appropriate curriculum, receive scholarships, which cover the costs of room and board,meals, books and classes during the term.
"The only thing we've had to worry about is classes," Shaw said.
WMC, faced with a shrinking pool of college applicants, sees the program as an opportunity toattract new students.
"This is a tremendous program," said Barbara Disharoon, WMC's registrar and assistant dean of academic affairs. "Anything we can do to attract transfer students is a boon to enrollment. The pool of 18-year-olds is shrinking, but the pool of 24-year-olds and beyond is not."
Although about 100 non-traditional students attend WMC, none has come through the January Term Institute. Many participants, including this year's group, still are working toward their associate's degrees, Disharoon said.
WMC officials say they hope to expand the pro
gram to include other community colleges.
"It's been a wonderful opportunity for me," said Shaw, a Linwood resident who began taking human services courses at CCC three semesters ago.
Although Shaw would like to consider WMC as a viable route to a bachelor's degree, she has concerns about the cost. She currently pays $37 a credit hour at CCC. The cost per credit hour at WMC is $386
Recognizing that these students may have limited horizons due to economic or sociological barriers, WMC also provides sessions on financial aid. The sessions included presentations on available scholarships, admissions procedures and individual financial counseling.
"Western Maryland would be very convenient for me," said Barbara Zook, a dietary aide at Carroll Lutheran Village Home. "I'm not crazy aboutdriving down to Baltimore and using the Beltway."
The 36-year-oldWestminster resident, who is taking mental health and human servicesclasses at CCC, received a leave of absence from her employer, allowing her to get a feel for campus life by staying in a dorm overnight.
"I missed my TV," she said.
Valerie Rogers, a registered nursewho is taking classes at CCC for her own enrichment, also is among the non-traditional students.
"I'm interested in going here -- fora master's degree," said the 30-year-old Westminster resident. "I'm just not sure I can afford it."
Financial worries, though, weren't the concern for these three and a couple of other students during lunch in the campus cafeteria one afternoon between winter snowstorms.
Social activities, or the lack of, were on their agenda.
"It's been limited so far," Zook said. "It's hard to come in and make new friends anywhere. We're only here for a short time."
College officials are working on social activities, ranging from pizza and dessert parties to video and movie outings.
Joining Zook and the others for lunch, Darryl Groszer, a 40-year-old father of two from Baltimore County, said he found the institute to be a challenging and welcome opportunity.
One of the few men in the program, Groszer, who works in the admissions office at Catonsville Community College and holds other part-time jobs, said he wanted to go to a four-year collegebut never could afford it.
"It's an enlightening experience," hesaid. "But I don't think I could ever afford to come here. It's a long shot financially."