Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Teaching, Learning, and Leadership


This phenomenological study describes the social and academic experiences of successful non-traditional students on the main campus of a traditionally oriented residential university and how these experiences promote or impede their persistence to graduation. The study determined what role family support, faculty support, institutional policy and services, and the classroom environment have in persistence of adult undergraduates. The methodology employed open ended individual interviews based on an interview outline. Participants in the study were all students within two traditional semesters of graduation, andthe sampling procedures were purposeful, yielding a fairly diverse pool of 15 participants. Trustworthiness of the data was accomplished through thick, rich descriptions, member checks and peer review.

The data analysis revealed six major themes regarding these successful adult undergraduates. First, the evidence of a strong personal striving for success was the strongest characteristic found in this study. In spite of significant barriers, the participants were strongly motivated to achieve their degrees, and were successful in that endeavor. Second, for all the participants, faculty support was important. There were gender differences in how faculty support was sought: Female participants in the study tended to share personal circumstances with faculty and expected an understanding of those circumstances, while male participants tended to use faculty for academic support only. Third, program flexibility, particularly with regard to substitutions that recognized competence and previous coursework was significant to persistence for these participants. Fourth, immediate family support, especially for single parents with young children was determined to be critical to success. Fifth, social integration on campus was not determined to be important for persistence, as the classroom was theonly campus connection for most of the older participants in the study. And finally, institutional support, while appreciated, was not considered by these participants to be significant to their persistence. While some of the themes are consistent with previous research about this population, the findings of strong personal striving and the gender differences regarding the use of faculty support were not found in the literature. Intent to persist might be considered similar to strong personal striving, but this discussion broadens that previous research.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access