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The Nontraditional Student vs. the Traditional Classroom

The purpose of Vicki Trowler’s quantitative research on non-traditional students in higher education was to aid college campuses in the realm of student life. Through her research, Vicki wanted to figure out why there was a shortage of non-traditional students on traditional college campus; generally, what aspects of traditional college was weeding out non-traditional students. In recent years, faculty and counselors at college campuses across the nation have stepped up their efforts to better understand the needs of the students they serve. They want to improve retention and graduation rates for an increasingly diverse and non-traditional student body. (Hoover, 1997) Through a quantitative study, her research has proven that the traditional classroom has a high effect on the non-traditional college student. In her research, Vicki utilized a common used term of non-traditional students to reflect a school’s population of; LGBTQ+ students, disabled students, first generation students, work-study students, and traditional students. I will be focusing on the relationships between the classroom and traditional/non-traditional students. The research yields striking data on how traditional college campus both positively and negatively affect the non-traditional student’s college experience. Within her abstract, Vicki uses data from initial stages of her research to illustrate the importance of conceptual clarity in a study of “engaging non-traditional students.” (Trowler, 2015) Her research examines the quantitative work being done in “disguising interests and inequities” using “chaotic conceptions”. (Trowler, 2015) She uses the examples of students who define themselves as non-traditional in their own study contexts, to illustrate the problems of deploying such “chaotic conceptions” (Trowler, 2015) for purposes beyond description.
Vicki’s methodology stems from a previously conducted experiment that surveyed a cross-section of students who were enrolled in a large metropolitan college. Her sampling frame consisted of 1,310 undergraduate students who were matriculating at a large metropolitan college. Through a strategic yet random sampling technique, Vicki chose her pool of variables. She then did a demographic check of the students she selected to highlight key percentages and statistical data among her variables. A chart of her demographics can be viewed on page seven. Surveys were administered in class, within a two-week period during the second half of the semester. Student participation was voluntary, but approximately 95% of the students completed the survey. Vicki utilized a 96-term survey that was designed by her and her colleagues. Their hopes for the tool was for it to yield information that would allow them to define carefully and understand their student subpopulations, and how to assess and address a students’ needs. In the first section of the survey there were 21 multiple choice questions that asked about the student’s family backgrounds and their living conditions. Students were then asked to give their GPA as well. The next section encompassed 69 five-point Likert-scale items about student’s study activities and attitudes about school work. The Likert-scale is a popular format of questionnaire that is used in educational research. The scale helps researchers to measure interval responses. The range went from 1 to 5 where 5 was strongly agree. This part of the survey included items which indexed student’s confidence about, comfort level with and responses to the academic demands of college. In her concluding section of the survey, Vicki asked open-ended questions where she invited students to describe the ideal professor and the ideal course. As well as how, if at all, they might want to change, to better succeed in college. A coding scheme was developed using the principles of Grounded Theory, and the student’s answers were categorized into major and sub categories for each question. Grounded theory is an inductive methodology often used for qualitative research but can be used as general method of research to categorize and summarize variable responses. Vicki used her findings to correlate statistical data about non-traditional student’s experiences on traditional college campuses, to traditional student’s experiences. By correlating her findings from each group, she was able to figure out what aspects of college was appealing to the non-traditional student. She then took her work to her own college campus and tested to see if adding the desired courses and professor attributes, would in turn yield a stronger percentage of non-traditional students. Her test came back successful and she became the pilot of many to entertain the gap that college campuses had dealing with traditional vs non-traditional student experiences.
 Vicki’s research has helped college campuses everywhere better understand their students, and the roles that the institute play in their lives. A notable find that was conducted as a sub-experiment was the qualities that professors possessed that made the life of a non-traditional student easier. Her findings are graphically outlined on page seven. It was typical that Professors who were equipped with these characteristics taught a diverse number of courses. Through another sub-experiment, Vicki also finds a unique finding that answers the question, “What about a course attracts non-traditional students?” Refer to page eight. There were few significant differences that emerged between a category of non-traditional student, first generation, and traditional students. The difference was found within their description of the ideal professor and idea course. It was found that first generation students were attracted predominantly to professors who were fair and could relate course work to the lives of their students. Meanwhile, traditional students found that professors who were challenging like their high school teachers had a bigger impact on them; moreover, courses that expounded on their high-school curriculum proved to be a gain for them. Vicki’s findings show that non-traditional students can excel on traditional college campus, through unique relationships with their coursework and their professors. 
 Vicki’s research has gained tremendous success across college campuses everywhere. Professors are now able to better provide for all their students. The data presented are based on self-report data, and while the sample was “reasonable large”*, (Strage, 1999) it was not truly random, and so caution should be exercised in interpreting her findings. Contracted from the graphical data presented below, the “ideal professor” appeared to be someone of a “cross between a comedian, a scholar, and a caring mentor.”* (Strage & Brandt, 2000) When thinking about the best teacher I had during my educational journey, it was very easy to point out the remarkable things that they did. Brad Henry once said, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite imagination, and instill a love of learning.” Throughout my numerous years of being a student, I have come to appreciate the job that teachers do. From assisting students in the classroom, to being active supporters in their student’s lives, the role of a teacher is commendable. Good teachers are teachers that teach far beyond the classroom. Although, Vicki’s research does help bring light to the non-traditional student’s narrative, it undermines the social experience that non-traditional students have. Fighting for academic visibility is just half the battle, fighting for social visibility is the rest. To ensure that a non-traditional student excels both academically and socially should be the focus. Vicki’s findings only account for the academic aspect of a non-traditional college experience, but further research can be made to better assess the social aspect of a non-traditional student’s experience.  By conducting another quantitative research project, I am sure it is possible to figure out the disparities among non-traditional student social experiences. Like the survey that Vicki gives to her variables, she or other researchers can tailor the survey to address social conflicts and social interests within the non-traditional student. Parallel to the correlations that Vicki conducts pertaining to the course and professor attributes that non-traditional students care for, a study can be conducted to address which social programs on campus peaks the interests of non-traditional students. Lastly, the sample pool that Vicki pulls from is biased. By setting her criteria for non-traditional as only LGBTQ+ or first-generation students, she erases the experiences of other non-traditional students who do not identify as those identities. Opening her selection pool to encompass other non-traditional students will yield better results and ultimately a more comprehensible report.       
Vicki concludes her research by analyzing the data that she yielded from her survey. “Concepts such as student engagement and non-traditional are typically used in ways that may appear merely slapdash.” (Munro, 2011) As the child of a non-traditional student, I see first had the difference in experiences that my mother had from mine. Through Vicki’s research, I can make visible the narratives of non-traditional students on Bucknell’s campus. Vicki’s research also contracted a finding that helps college campuses become more inclusive and supportive of the non-traditional student’s narrative. By understanding a student’s mindset, college campuses are now able to better provide for their students in both the classroom and beyond. In her studies and research, Carol Dweck concluded that humans have two ways of gaining intelligence, a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is used to describe people who believe that their intelligence cannot increase nor decrease, it is simply “fixed”. Individuals with fixed mindsets are often perceived as lazy because they tend to exert little to no effort, for it reflects as stupidity on their behalf. Failure to those who adopt a fixed mindset is detrimental to their self-confidence, for they see failure within themselves, and not the activity that they are doing. A growth mindset is a form of thinking that allows for one’s intelligence to grow. Individuals with growth mindsets tend to realize that their abilities can be cultivated and trained. In fact, individuals with growth mindsets tend to produce maximum effort with a desire for gaining intelligence; for failure to them is a chance to learn and do better for the next opportunity or activity. All in all, Vicki’s research aids the collegiate community to attack the erasure of non-traditional students on a tractional college campus.
          Works Cited 
Hoover, R. (1997) The role of student affairs at metropolitan universities. In L. Dietz & V. Triponey (Eds.) Serving Students at Metropolitan Universities: the Unique Opportunities and Challenges, New Directions for Student Services, 79. (pp. 15-25). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Munro, L. (2011). "Go boldly, dream large!": The challenges confronting non-traditional students at university. Australian Journal of Education, 55(2), 115-131. Retrieved from Myers, J. E., & Mobley, A. K. (2004). Wellness of undergraduates: Comparisons of traditional and nontraditional students. Journal of College Counseling, 7(1), 40-49. Retrieved from Trowler, V. (2015, June 04). Negotiating Contestations and 'Chaotic Conceptions': Engaging 'Non‐Traditional' Students in Higher Education. Retrieved March 04, 2018, from
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