Date of Conferral

2016

Degree

Ph.D.

School

Education

Advisor

Heather Pederson

Abstract

An increase in nontraditional student enrollment continues in community colleges nationwide. Little is known about the interactions between mixed-age groups of students. This qualitative collective case study explored the academic and social influences of non-traditional students on their traditional peers in the community college classroom at a large, midwestern 2-year college. Tinto's interactionalist theory framed the study. Purposeful sampling was used to select 30 participants (13 traditional students, 13 non-traditional students, and 4 instructors) who represented the college population in terms of gender and racial and ethnic diversity. Interview questions were guided by the research questions, and data were also analyzed through inductive analysis. Data were hand-coded and a constant comparative method was used to categorize data into common themes. Findings indicated that non-traditional students play a positive role in community college classrooms. They serve as mentors to their traditional classmates, building relationships and sharing life and work experiences, as well as positive behaviors that contribute to traditional students' overall success. The positive influences the data revealed from interactions between nontraditional and traditional students included improvement in learning, retention, engagement, and confidence. Findings contributed to social change as nontraditional students' influence on traditional students could serve as a catalyst for practices that will benefit all community college students.