Nontraditional student's transition to college through the lens of Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory, Schlossberg's transition theory and gender schema theory
Over the past several decades, an increasing number of nontraditional students have been enrolling in college, however they face a variety of challenges in completing their educational goals and have lower completion rates than traditional students. Thus, the more institutions can understand about this student population, the better they can serve their unique needs. This qualitative study sought to understand how nontraditional students experience the transition to college, how these experiences differ by gender and which institutional factors help and/or hinder with the transition. To gain a better understanding of their transition to college, a transcendental phenomenological approach was used and the findings were analyzed using the lens of Schlossberg's Transition Theory, Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory and Gender Schema Theory. The participants included 10 female and 12 male participants who met the following criteria: over the age of 25, first year attending Great Falls College MSU and at least a one-year break since attending school elsewhere. They were interviewed two to three times, their interviews were transcribed and analyzed, and emergent categories were developed. The data was then analyzed using apriori codes developed from Schlossberg's Transition Theory followed by a further level of analysis using from Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory. Within the context of Ecological Theory, themes related to gender differences and institutional factors were identified. Key findings included that most students found the initial transition stressful, they resorted to a variety of coping skills and there were no significant gender differences in the transition experience. Overall, they demonstrated high levels of resilience and strong coping skills. They felt welcome and supported by the institution and only a few minor areas were identified for improvement. There were a few curious findings not identified in previous research including that the male participants actively sought opportunities to serve as mentors; that some students enroll seeking new careers with greater meaning and purpose rather than just economic gain; they had difficulty relating to traditional aged students and had attitudes of superiority towards them; most struggled with technology; and college did not necessarily become easier as they progressed through their education.