"The age has been increasing little by little over the years," said Carol Eckert, nursing director. "The average age is 30 to 32. Most have a child or two, and a part-time job."
The nontraditional are more goal oriented, know what they want and work hard.
Last year, 97.4 percent passed the state licensing test the first time. The two preceding years, all passed.
"I could not do what they are doing," said Carol. "It's amazing the stories they have. Sometimes, I may forget a name, but I don't forget the story."
Like the nursing student with a special needs child.
"She worked part time. The special needs child needed a lot of care. I would have bet she couldn't do it. Darn if she didn't go right through. She works at Cardinal Glennon now.
"You know they really want it if they get through something like that."
Here's another busy student's story.
Tom Fergus will earn his nursing degree in May. It's been a three-year process for the Lebanon father of five who attends Southwestern Illinois College.
"I had thought about it for quite a while, for the past 10 to 12 years," said Tom, 40, a former insurance agent and financial planner whose children range from 2 to 19. "I looked into it and almost did four years ago, then put it on a back burner again. Finally, I just made the change."
"I just want to provide more stability for my family," he said. "I only made money when I produced sales. I was working off commission. That was good and bad, depending on the economy."
His school adventure has been challenging, fun and time-consuming.
The hardest part?
"Just the financial sacrifice," he said. "Surviving off of one income while going back to school. We had some savings, but something will happen and we end up spending most of it."
He chose SWIC because of its location and reputation.
"SWIC is known for having a tough program, but prepares you well for the standard state test. They have a good success rate as far as people who graduate from the program -- 99 percent."
Of the 90 second-year nursing students, in his class, he's one of 12 men.
"Being a male, in the minority for nursing, is one of the advantages I have," he said. "From what other people have said, male graduates have no problem getting a job." The first year, Tom took nursing prerequisite classes, including biology, chemistry and algebra -- and aced them all.
"It was tricky to get in. They have quite a bit of prerequisites. They only let in the best candidates. Of 250 applicants, usually about 90 are accepted."
Most are younger, but Tom doesn't mind.
"A lot of it has actually been really fun. The people you meet. The friendships you make. The instructors have been great. ... Some things are humorous. They are all adults, but 19-year-olds can just add a different outlook on life."
Tom is in the home stretch.
Mondays and Fridays are class days. Tuesdays and Thursdays, he studies and works part time for Schwan's, stocking trucks for the home food service business.
Tom recently completed clinicals from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays on the medical surgical floor at Gateway Regional Medical Center in Granite City. They'll start again the end of March.
He'll graduate in May and is confident he'll find a nursing position.
"They pretty much offered me a job," he said. "It's not completely set in stone. The charge nurse told me they would hire me in an instant."
He likes the on-the-job aspect.
The first year, he did basic skills, tasks such as bed making with the patient in bed, bathing, taking blood pressure.This year, it's total patient care under the guidance of a registered nurse.
"I like being around people and helping people," said Tom. "That part is a lot of fun. It's more interesting than reading about it in a book. It's much different when you're applying to a patient knowledge that you learned."
After Tom gains nursing experience, he wants to continue schooling.
"I'd like to get into the operating room as a nurse anesthetist. That takes a master's. It's four more years down the road, at a minimum."
Wife Liliana wants to go back to school, too.
For now, she translates for Spanish-speaking clients and registers patients at a doctor's office. She also takes the kids -- Tommy, 2, Grace, 5, and Sebastian, 6 -- to school and baby sitters, makes dinner and gives baths.
"It's hard," she said. "Everything is on my shoulders, but I really admire him. That he's really doing everything, and studying all the time."
Tom also has two older sons, Brandon, 19, who is in the U.S. Army Reserves, and Tylor, 15, who attends Lebanon High School.
"Tylor is a big help with all the household chores," said Liliana. "He's my biggest helper."
And one of his dad's biggest supporters.
"I am excited for him," said Tylor. "He's doing what he wants to do."
Advice: "I would just say, if you want to do it, do it. It's quite a process. Quit waiting for the ideal or best time to do it. That never comes."