It is expected that by the year 2020 over 50% of students enrolled in higher education will be nontraditional students (NCES, 2003). According to the 2000 Census, of the 182 million individuals age 25 and older, 126 million have not completed an educational degree beyond a high school diploma (U.S. Bureau of Census, 2000). As such, the number of nontraditional students deciding to enter higher education will continue to increase as resources have become increasingly limited and higher level skills are in high demand (Kasworm, 1990). As a result, it is expected that more and more adults will be forced to pursue higher education as a means to survive due to the drastic decline in blue-collar jobs and the substantial increase in jobs being outsourced overseas (Cupp, 1991).
As a result of the current and projected increase of nontraditional students, understanding the variables that predict their academic success is no longer an option, it is a necessity. Considering traditional trends in times of economic depression, research suggest that adults are more likely to return to school to improve their skills in the hopes that it will make them more marketable in the workforce (NCCES, 2004).
To that end, the purpose of the current study is to provide an exploratory investigation of nontraditional students with the goal of providing a platform for future research. Specifically, the objective of the current study is twofold: (1) to explore the reasons why nontraditional students are returning to school; and (2) to examine traditional variables, particularly, non-cognitive variables, and their ability to predict nontraditional students' academic success.
To complete the study, 150 participants were sampled from a Community College located in central Kentucky. Standard multiple regression analysis was conducted to analyze the variables and their ability to predict academic achievement. The overall model consisting of 13 predictor variables was significant in terms of accounting for the variance in students' academic achievement, adjusted R2 =.084, F (14, 129) = 1.937, p 001. Variables discovered significant in predicting academic achievement were self-efficacy, performance approach and performance avoidance.
When asked to report their reasons for returning back to school, the majority of students reported a desire to make more money (N=46) or a desire to complete a lifetime goal (N=35). Finally, findings of the study also provide support for the four-factor model as proposed by Elliot and McGregor (2001) by highlighting the utility of mastery avoidance orientation.
KEYWORDS: Nontraditional Students, Achievement, Persistence, Retention, Community College.