Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

William A. Poppen

Committee Members

Marla Peterson, Marianne Woodside, Jack Reese


Twelve community college stopouts (current students who had stopped attending college for at least one semester in the past and who had since re-enrolled) who fit the "success" criterion of having achieved sophomore status and of maintaining at least a 3.00 grade-point average were interviewed using nonstructured reflective interview techniques. The participants were encouraged to reflect on their disparate experiences of college, on themselves within each of those experiences, and on sources of social support that had contributed to their decisions to leave, to return to, and to remain in college. The participants discussed their various college experiences in terms of their reactions to the college environment as a new culture into which they were being assimilated or in terms of their perception of the practical value of a college education. Those who adopted the former stance tended to report having felt intimidated by the college environment, alienated from the college environment, or having reacted unwisely to the freedom of choice available to them, having developed a love for learning, or having learned to treat college attendance and assignments as if they were one's current career. Participants' self-descriptions fell into the categories of intrinsic motivational factors (which included progression from self-doubt to a sense of mastery, exercise of a sense of autonomy, or the application of inherent tenacity), extrinsic motivators (job market demands and time pressure to graduate as a result of age), and the development and use of such academic skills as effective time management, learning about and working within the academic system, exercising classroom skills (sitting near the front, participating in discussions, taking notes, and assessing instructors' grading patterns), and employing cognitive reappraisal when one feels overwhelmed or discouraged. Nonconstructive social influences on the participants' academic decisions included nonsupportive spouses, parents, and friends, as well as a few college students and faculty members. Constructive social influences included college faculty (the most prevalent theme by far that emerged from the interviews), spouses and family members, friends and co-workers, and even models whom the participants hoped to avoid emulating. Serving as a positive model of academic behaviors for one' s own children or grandchildren also proved to be important to the participants. The interview data partially confirmed the theoretical model and subsequent opinions advanced by Vincent Tinto, but suggested that another factor, personal integration, may greatly influence academic motivation.

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