Post Traditional Student Experience

Young adults in our community face (and often overcome) a variety of barriers in their pursuit of a college degree. What’s often overlooked is the unique life circumstances that impact their degree path. This research, supported by The Webber Foundation, explains more:


First, a definition.  Post-traditional students have at least one of the following seven characteristics.

  1. Delayed enrollment (does not enter college in the same calendar year of high school completion)
  2. Attends part-time for at least part of the academic year
  3. Works full-time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled
  4. Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining financial aid eligibility
  5. Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but may also be a caregivers for family)
  6. Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents)
  7. Does not have a high school diploma

Most researchers estimate almost three fourths of all college students fall into this category.

Second, a caveat. As you’ll see below, some of the percentages aren’t whole numbers because either (a) students didn’t answer every question, or (b) in some cases, students were allowed to select multiple answers. Also note that this information is diagnostic, but not statistically significant.

We hope the insights become a starting place for both advisors to review their own practices and organizations supporting students to review their internal practices.

Third, a next step. We’d love to help you dig deeper into the research and implications for your organization and current practices. Give us a call or send an email, and we’d be more than happy to chat.

With that, here are the findings.

Survey Results

There were 182 survey respondents. Of those:

  • 81% will be the first in their family to earn a college degree
  • 77% of respondents were female
  • 41% have attended multiple colleges

For post-traditional indicators, we found:

  • 57% are working more than 20 hours per week
  • 58% receive no financial support from their family
  • 20% are providing for someone at home (family or child)
  • 19% were over age 24

Of Respondents Who Are Enrolled (116 responses)

  • 66% are commuting to campus
  • 45% are financially independent of their family
  • 39% are working more than 20 hours
  • 34% are attending part-time
  • 26% have taken at least one semester off

Of Respondents Who Are Not Enrolled (66 responses)

There’s good news. 68% felt like they belonged, 65% participated in activities outside class, and 67% felt able to ask for what they need.

Even so:

  • 62% were working more than 20 hours while enrolled
  • The top reasons respondents reported stopping out were:
    • Cost of tuition, books, and fees, expenses outside school, and their personal schedule
  • The top three resources respondents reported would have helped were:
    • Scholarships, emergency grants, and more frequent academic advising


While the more in-depth research and corresponding report from AC4D illuminates more nuance, we see three key insights from this research.

  1. Post-traditional students need different types of resources; what works for an 18 year old attending college full-time with a work-study won’t work for a 24 year old attending part-time.
  2. Post-traditional students don’t fit a single mold. Across the ages, family circumstances, cultures of origin, and prior college experience, we see a wide variety of student strengths and needs.
  3. Post-traditional students get lost in the mix. Because they’re not yet who we think of when we think of college students, they’re also not yet who most college persistence organizations – or even schools – design for.

As post-traditional students comprise an increasing portion of college matriculation, we must ensure we consider and provide for their needs at both university or organization-wide levels and through our caseworkers and advisors.