Matthew Franklin juggles fatherhood while also taking classes at the University of Richmond.

At 35, he is a second-semester junior studying geography, focusing on geographic information systems and is a father to two sons.

Franklin is considered a nontraditional student. Although researchers debate what makes a student nontraditional, they agree on three main factors: age, financial status and family. 

Nontraditional college students are more likely to be older than the average college student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. They also often face additional family or financial responsibilities, such as working full-time while enrolled.  

The Office of Undergraduate Admission lacks official statistics about how many adult students enroll at UR, but Franklin said he thought there were few students who were like him on campus. 

“I don’t know other nontraditional students besides myself," he said. "But, Richmond has always felt welcoming to me."

Before arriving at UR, Franklin enrolled in and attended college on three separate occasions, but dropped out each time. 

“I never knew why I wanted to be at college, so I didn't do very well because I didn't care,” Franklin said.

After dropping out of college the first time, Franklin worked as a carpenter for several years. During this time, three events changed his perspective on college. 

First, he met his wife in 2005 and married her in October 2006. 

Second, in 2009, police arrested Franklin and his friend for growing marijuana. 

“I got off with probation, which was surprising to me,” Franklin said. 

Third, Franklin suffered an injury the following December. By February 2010, he had spiraled down into an opioid addiction stemming from the painkillers he had taken for his injury. 

“Long story short, I ended up spending 22 months in jail because I was arrested for narcotics,” Franklin said.

During his sentence, he realized he had been wasting his time and failing to live up to his potential, he said. He decided to do better. 

He enrolled in John Tyler Community College and started taking classes in fall 2015. After two years, he graduated with an associate degree of general studies with a specialization in science. 

Franklin arrived at UR in January 2018. 

“My life is now just very, very busy,” he said. 

Franklin doesn’t work, but he sees school as a full-time job. His daily commute to UR takes him around 25 minutes.

Each morning, he drops off his two sons at school and stays all day at UR. He tries to finish as much work as possible in between classes. 

In the evenings, he drives home to help with dinner and clean up around the house. Franklin starts his homework around 9 p.m. after he finishes putting his sons to sleep and packing their lunches for the next day.

“This semester, [my] workload has been heavy,” Franklin said. “But faculty have been really supportive by giving me extra time when I tell them I’m overwhelmed.” 

Previously, Franklin struggled with time management, but his life experiences and campus resources helped him develop discipline, he said.

“Being at school with a clear goal and with a family that I want to provide for gives me extra motivation,” he said. “I've gone to CAPS for help with balancing school and family to make sure I'm not leaning toward bad habits again.”

Although his nontraditional status makes him an outlier on campus, Franklin said he enjoyed getting to know faculty members and students. 

“I'm only a few years younger than a lot of the faculty, which is a cool thing,” Franklin said. “I talk about my kids' sport events with them, [and they] are also going to their kids' sport events later that weekend." 

His professors have also noticed the positive impact Franklin has on his classmates because of his experiences.

“I can tell the other students enjoy having Matt in class both because of the high standards he sets for himself and also for his sense of humor,” Kimberley Browne, a geography professor and the director of the spatial analysis lab, stated in an email. 

“He has mentored a number of interns and students and can be trusted to accomplish the work he promises to do."

Franklin said UR had been welcoming toward him, but he said he wanted transfer students to be more included in Richmond College’s traditions. Because he lives off campus, it is more difficult for him to learn about the events.

“I never had the [Investiture] experience, but I would love to be more involved with Richmond College,” Franklin said. 

Franklin said he was thankful for the support from faculty members and classmates. 

"I'm just here to learn just like everyone else,” he said. 

Contact contributor Sunny Lim at sunny.lim@richmond.edu.