Persistence After 3 Years
The seven characteristics associated with nontraditional status—financial independence, part-time attendance, delayed enrollment, full-time work, dependents, single parenthood, and lack of a high school diploma—have sometimes been called "risk factors" because they are related negatively to persistence (staying in school or earning a degree) (Horn 1996; Horn and Premo 1995). This section uses longitudinal data to examine the relationship between nontraditional characteristics and persistence and attainment after 3 years for students who enrolled in postsecondary education for the first time in 1995–96.5
Persistence is best studied in relation to students’ goals. Some students enroll for a limited number of courses without intending to earn a degree or certificate. Without knowing the students’ specific goals, it is impossible to know whether they were achieved. Therefore, only students with a degree or transfer goal are included in this discussion of persistence. However, 88 percent of the 1995–96 beginning postsecondary students were in this category (BPS:1996/1998). Students’ nontraditional status here refers to their status when they first enrolled and does not take into account any subsequent changes such as having children or shifting enrollment or employment status.
One would expect nontraditional students to take longer than traditional students to complete their programs because enrolling part time is one of the most common nontraditional characteristics (table 2). Consequently, comparing their degree attainment rates after only 3 years is not particularly useful. In contrast, comparing the percentages of traditional and nontraditional degree seekers who left postsecondary education without a degree and had not returned (at least within 3 years) is both appropriate and useful.
Among students seeking a bachelor’s degree, 50 percent of highly nontraditional students were no longer enrolled (for any degree) 3 years later, compared with 12 percent of traditional students (figure 4). Similarly, among those seeking an associate’s degree, 62 percent of highly nontraditional students left without any degree, compared with 19 percent of traditional students. Even minimally nontraditional students seeking a bachelor’s or associate’s degree were more likely than their traditional counterparts to leave. Apparent differences at the certificate level were not statistically significant.
In addition to being more likely than traditional students to leave postsecondary education without any degree, nontraditional students who had initially planned to earn a bachelor’s degree (including those who started at a less-than-4-year institution) were less likely than their traditional counterparts to be still enrolled at a 4-year institution 3 years later (table 6). While 76 percent of traditional students were still enrolled in 4-year institutions, the percentage dropped to 51 percent for minimally nontraditional students and even lower percentages for moderately and highly nontraditional students (28 and 26 percent, respectively).
5Among 1995–96 beginning postsecondary students, 45 percent were traditional students, 19 percent were minimally nontraditional, 19 percent were moderately nontraditional, and 16 percent were highly nontraditional (NCES 2000–154). (back to text)
Figures and Tables
Figure 4: Percentage of 1995–96 beginning postsecondary degree seekers who had not attained any degree and were not enrolled in 1998, by initial degree objective and student status
Table 2: Percentage of all undergraduates with each nontraditional characteristic, by type of institution, and percentage of nontraditional undergraduates with each nontraditional characteristic, by nontraditional characteristic and status: 1999–2000
Table 6: Percentage distribution of 1995–96 beginning postsecondary students with a bachelor’s degree objective when they first enrolled according to their status in 1998, by student status
Table FS4: Standard errors for the percentage of 1995–96 beginning postsecondary degree seekers who had not attained any degree and were not enrolled in 1998, by initial degree objective and student status
Table S2: Standard errors for the percentage of all undergraduates with each nontraditional characteristic, by type of institution, and percentage of nontraditional undergraduates with each nontraditional characteristic, by nontraditional characteristic and status: 1999–2000
Table S6: Standard errors for the percentage distribution of 1995–96 beginning postsecondary students with a bachelor’s degree objective when they first enrolled according to their status in 1998, by student status