The experience of nontraditional age women in community college
Women are represented in higher numbers in poverty than are men in every race and ethnicity (Cawthorne, 2008; United States Census bureau, 2011). As women attain higher levels of education, their income rises, so women who earn post-secondary degrees are better able to support themselves and their families. Women often enroll in school for a post-secondary degree after attaining adulthood (defined as self-supporting, having one or more children, or marriage or other significant partner relationship). The vast majority of them go to community college (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013); they are hardworking students who often do better in class than their traditional age counterparts. Still, in great numbers they fail to complete a course of study (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). This is a multiple case study exploring the experiences of nontraditional age women who attend an urban community college. There were five women participants between the ages of 25 and 45 who participated in this study. They all possessed one or more of the markers of adulthood and they had taxable income of less than $18,000.00 per year, which is less than a living wage in this urban county. Each women was interviewed individually and then was given a blank journal in which to write responses to three or four prompts or questions; these were returned to the researcher for analysis. Questions and analysis involved a look at women's experience in community college, particularly the relationship with fellow students, the institution, and institutional agents. Results indicate that the women shared the quintain (the term for the phenomenon across cases) of seizing a new opportunity, a unique event unassociated with a causal or trigger event. Each was driven by strong intrinsic motivation that was increased with every successful event in higher education, and was not diminished by negative events. Institutional agents from community college did not play a significant part in persistence of the women. Once the women decided to enroll in community college, they gathered all the resources available to them to successfully persist to their desired degree, focusing on the improved career and opportunities anticipated in the future.