Examining the Motivation of Nontraditional Students and Their Lived Experience Attending/Returning to a Four-Year Degree Program



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Nontraditional students' enrollment continues to increase, but research into their individual experience and appropriate institutional support resources is still in its infancy. This study explores the lived experiences of nontraditional students who enrolled in a four-year degree program and their underlying motivation to go/ return to college. Through the use of semi-structured interviews, participants shared their stories and perspectives into their experiences returning to/ beginning a four-year degree program. These interviews further highlighted the nuances of the nontraditional student experience and how their programs are impacted by their life decisions, obligations, and outside roles. To analyze the data, a thematic analysis with narrative inquiry undertones was performed. Themes of life events impacting academic trajectory, pursuing and persisting in college boosted personal growth, improving career aspirations and trajectory, personal relationships and their hindrance or support to academic success, and institutional support resources can add to and detract from student success were found and addressed. Findings further highlighted the need for future research into specific nontraditional programs/ cohorts, flexible policies that address the constraints faced, dedicated support services, and who this population is and the experiences they are bringing. This study also serves as a catalyst for reframing and supporting the nontraditional student experience through training, research, and updated campus dynamics that showcase this population in a positive light.



Enrollment, Motivation, Nontraditional students, Thematic analysis