An Exploration of Non-Traditional Students' Transition through Higher Education
Willis, Sophie Jayne
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis provides a critical insight into the nature of non-traditional students’ transitions into higher education (HE) over the course of a year at a newly established hybrid HE institution in England. It generates information of relevance to those concerned with enhancing the non-traditional student experience and promoting widening access to HE opportunities. The enquiry specifically focused on learners navigating the transition from a foundation year of study into undergraduate studies. Understanding their experiences of transition between different levels of study permits an understanding of how to sustain participation by improving the experiences of those on the edge of further participation in HE. Time is recognised to play an important role in student transitions, yet there are limited longitudinal research data available to develop an understanding of non-traditional students’ experience during this phase of transition. A longitudinal instrumental case study was conducted over the course of one academic year. Data were gathered via individual in-depth semi-structured interviews with 12 participants on three occasions. All data were initially analysed using a structural coding framework and subsequently following a pattern coding framework. The participants’ experiences of transition into HE varied, although all were noticeably influenced by their prior educational experiences. Whilst they had largely positive interpretations of their transition; their previous educational experiences were significant in shaping their anticipation, expectations and experience of their transition into HE. Participant confidence within the HE environment and their appreciation of the purpose of HE were two themes that permeated their responses throughout their period of transition during which data were collected. The complexity of their engagement evolved over the course of the year and became more multifaceted, developing from a principally utilitarian understanding to a more holistic appreciation of its meaning and value to them as individuals. The findings have recognised that sustaining participation in HE for non-traditional students is a complex issue. Combinations of both structural and personal factors have been established to have had a dynamic and evolving relationship on the nature of non-traditional students’ engagement and transition into HE. The recommendations of this study suggest that future strategies for individual practitioners, and more broadly within an institution, aimed at sustaining participation should consider multi-faceted approaches which recognise the range of institutional and personal factors that can potentially inhibit successful transition for this group of learners. Such strategies should seek to address the perceived low-status of foundation year programmes of study, recognise the need to tailor institutional support structures such that they are attractive and engage non-traditional learners entering HE, via ensuring that the relevancy of the curricula is explicate and support mechanisms encourage engagement from learners. In this way the practices of all within an institution can combine to encourage and evolve to embrace a more transformative approach to embedding widening participant policy; resulting in a more coherent experience of transition and promote sustained engagement in HE for non-traditional students.
EdD in Education