Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Instruction and Teacher Education


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Susan L. Schramm-Pate


According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly half of the enrolled college students in the United States of America (USA) are 24 years of age or older. Over one-third are at least 35 years old, which translates into over four million students being a part of growing mature and/or non-traditional student population. Women over the age of 30 represent one of the largest groups of nontraditional students (Menson, 1982). Over half of the undergraduate student populations are comprised of women (National Institute of Education, 1984). The transition point for many women was the motivation to return to school. Several cross-sectional research studies suggest that student's initial educational goals may contain motivational influences which affect their persistence at the collegiate level (Cope & Hannah, 1975; Pantages & Creedon, 1978; Lenning et al., 1980). This study explores the strategies that non-traditional African-American female students at USC utilized in their persistence to graduate with a bachelor's degree. In addition, the research was used to give voice to a population of students who have been historically marginalized by mainstream academia.

This study attempts to describe the social and academic experiences of the eight African-American non-traditional female students and how these experiences promoted their persistence to graduation. Overwhelmingly, the participants indicated that the utilization of family support and peer support were the two most import factors that influenced their persistence to graduation. Closely following those two factors were faculty support and student services support. As the emergence of nontraditional students as a major constituency on campus continues, academics, practitioners, and policy makers working with these populations need to recognize their unique characteristics. Not only must leaders on campus develop new degree and non-degree programs for these students, they must also recognize that retention efforts with these students require vision and creativity to guide efforts, programs to control the conditions that encourage development and persistence, the establishment of student support systems that foster the persistence of nontraditional students, the offering of high quality instruction, and flexible structures and processes to help motivate and student commitment.


© 2009, Sharon Lee White