A study on how nontraditional HIV-positive students make meaning of the college experience in central New York colleges and universities

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Bruce Carter


nontraditional students, immune deficiency, Higher education, Social psychology

Subject Categories

Higher Education and Teaching


A qualitative study of HIV-positive students at colleges and universities in the United States was conducted. The purpose of the study was to understand, from the students' perspective, how meaning was given to the college experience and how this experience affected HIV-positive students' personal goals in life.

Fourteen 2-hour interviews were conducted from the summer semester of 1993 to the spring semester of 1995, with additional follow-up interviews conducted for further verification of topics. Data collection consisted of participant observation in 8 classrooms and residential life settings. Data analyses consisted of reviewing field notes and transcripts, developing grounded theories, and looking for consistent themes. The data were coded and analyzed using a customized personal computer software package.

Results of this study are presented in three parts: (a) academic learning, (b) interactions in the college environment, and (c) students' understanding of college life. A significant portion of the findings is expressed in the students' perceptions of what it is like to be enrolled as a student in a U.S. College or University in upstate New York. The student responses focused on interactions with fellow classmates, professors, administrators, college health officials, other college residents, and family members. The significance of these interactions have all impacted on what constitutes the college experience.

Students' view of the college experience primarily focused on academic classroom settings and social life, external to the college environment. Alienation and detachment from the environment were prevalent themes for these HIV-positive students. Even with these feelings, students still took an active role in the learning process and continued high academic expectations for themselves. Social relationships primarily consisted of friendships outside of the college environment and active participation in local or national organizations related to HIV/AIDS issues. Students further viewed their HIV status as not affecting the learning process and primarily focused on attaining a college degree in order to find employment and to place themselves in a better socioeconomic status.


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