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Non-Traditional Students


This initiative project promotes college success among non-traditional students through strengths-based research, counseling, advising, and programming utilizing strategic partnerships at the University of Michigan. UM-based Diversity Research and Policy Program (DRPP) scholars, Center for the Education of Women (CEW) staff, the Office of Budget and Planning (OBP) staff, and staff of the Office of Enrollment Management have collaborated in the development of new models for identifying “non-traditional” (NT) students at UM. The first goal was to develop models that could be used for similar purposes by other selective four-year institutions. The strategic partnership: (1) translates DRPP strengths-based scholarship to design professional development activities; (2) designs CEW-based NT programming; (3) translates the expert knowledge among CEW counselors and COUNTS members to guide new strengths-based scholarship at UM; (4) informs student data collection at UM to be inclusive of the challenges faced by NT students’ and (5) uses insights from educational practice to inform DRPP research on NT students. Using funds from a National Center for Institutional Diversity Grant to Support Research and Scholarship for Change, DRPP and its partners have made progress toward all of these goals.

Work in progress

Focused review of existing literature on non-traditional students. There is a growing recognition that non-traditional students comprise the majority of undergraduate students attending college nationwide. Normatively, NT undergraduates have been defined as falling into one or more of the following categories: age 25 or older; enrolling in college two years or more since high school graduation; being married or having dependents; being a caregiver for a family member; working full-time while being enrolled; being the first in one’s family to attend college). Interestingly, many of the studies of non-traditional undergraduates focus on institutions (e.g., community colleges; masters-level four year colleges; for-profit institutions) that are less selective. The NCID grant has supported a focused review of existing literature on NT students who attend more selective institutions (e.g., public flagships; Ivy league universities) as it appears that considerably less is known about this subsample of the NT population. Findings from this review will provide additional direction for expansion of the existing research we have been conducting on NT undergraduates.

Non-traditional students and undergraduate research. DRPP researchers are in the planning a study of factors that contribute to the academic performance, and persistence of non-traditional students and more traditional students who have participated in undergraduate research programs. The Non-Traditional Students and Undergraduate Research project will manage, merge, and analyze data from two existing sources: a pre-existing longitudinal study of undergraduates and institutional data.

The planned study will focus on obtaining evidence related to concepts measured in our strengths-based framework, including sources of stress for the participants, participants’ strategies for coping with these stressors, and the multi-level strengths that participants mobilize while implementing their coping strategies. The inclusion of multi-level strengths in our research framework is important because they have been shown to affect positive adaptation and successful outcomes above and beyond academic background factors. Such factors have also been demonstrated to be of particular importance in understanding the academic and career trajectories of non-traditional students.

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