Adult non-traditional students' perceptions of the factors that contribute to a fulfilling college academic experience

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


James Collins


Nontraditional students, Adult students, Fulfillment

Subject Categories



This study examined adult non-traditional students' perceptions of factors contributing to making their academic experience fulfilling, rewarding and successful. This research is unique in the use of adult non-traditional students' perceptions as a basis for the study and builds on the work of Bean and Metzner (1985). This study used returning adult undergraduates who were matriculated in a program, part-time or full-time and were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college with an average age of 37. It continues the work of Metzner and Bean (1987) by examining the factors identified and possible relationships with the students' feelings of being a part of the campus and their intentions to persist or withdraw.

Sixteen interviews conducted in two colleges, sought indepth data describing the unique needs, events, and expectations of the academic experience. This data was used to construct a questionnaire subsequently distributed to 200 students in the same two colleges.

This study found that the students defined their experiences in a broad, unified perspective and identified ten factors which included: Information, Classes, Program, Acknowledgment as Adults, Student Expectation of Students, Student Expectation of Faculty, Schedule Support, Personal Support, Academic Support and Non-Academic Support.

Adult non-traditional students identified the college experience as an academic experience comingled with social needs, expectations and desires. This study suggests that the social aspect of the experience is not unimportant but rather perceived differently by adult students.

These students were able to distinguish those factors contributing to the ideal academic experience as opposed to those factors as they actually exist in their present institutions. The students in both institutions agreed on the contribution of these factors to the ideal academic experience.

Student Expectation of Faculty was strongly associated with the student's sense of being part of the campus. Students' intention to persist or withdraw was examined but the small sample of students who intended to withdraw made it difficult to draw conclusions. Variables such as finances, outside problems or changes in home or job responsibilities, learning problems and a lack of pertinent information were associated with their persistence.


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