Date of Award

Spring 2016

Degree Type

Capstone - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Education (MEd)

First Advisor

Susan Marine


Nontraditional students are an extremely diverse group with very unique backgrounds and needs, and their motivations to enroll, persist, and graduate vary depending on factors internal and external to the college and are often dissimilar to their traditional aged counterparts (Pelletier, 2010). Given this difference and increasing enrollment numbers of nontraditional students, understanding the lived experiences of these students is critical for institutions of higher education. This study examined persistence factors for nontraditional students at a Northeast Catholic college, including academic and social engagement, the role of support systems in their lives, and their sense of belonging. It also sought their suggested improvements to the college environment. 62 students participated in a survey and six students participated in a focus group. Participants described institutional barriers to persistence stemming from a lack of communication and academic advising, unsupportive faculty and services, programming that was not relevant, and a chilly campus climate. In contrast, support and concern from faculty and staff, family, friends, work colleagues, combined with intrinsic, internal motivation was integral to the students’ persistence and success. Recommendations for improved practice include building a nontraditional student lounge, faculty training, and strengthening advising and support services on campus. Additional recommendations include improved communication processes, and promoting academic and social opportunities specifically designed for nontraditional students.