The purpose of this study was to understand, through nontraditional student perspectives,
how institutional practices of postsecondary proprietary schools may influence the
success of moderately to highly nontraditional students. The study was undertaken for
these reasons: (a) A large and growing number of higher education students are
nontraditional, putting them at higher risk of not reaching their educational goals; (b)
proprietary schools represent a growing segment of higher education that is experiencing
documented success with student outcomes; and (c) given increasing accountability
expectations, community colleges may be able to learn from proprietary school
The research design used an interpretive social science philosophical approach
and the method of hermeneutic phenomenology. Six students from one proprietary
school were interviewed in order to understand: (a) what meanings they ascribed to the
term, "college success," (b) what school practices they found to be most relevant to that
success, and (c) how they felt these practices contributed to their success. Data emerging
from the interviews were analyzed to show how participants' nontraditional
characteristics informed their meanings of college success and how the proprietary school
practices were related by participants to those meanings.
Career Tech practices that were reported to contribute to participant success were
career services and admissions, knowledgeable and helpful instructors, and informational
meetings. The analysis of participant descriptions pointed to a complex, evolving student
population who view college as a personal process and require the connectivity and
continuity that a relationship with the institution can provide. The following are among
the seven insights drawn from the study:
 Participants held personal, as well as practical, meanings of college success.
 Having a knowledgeable instructor who applied explicit teaching methods was
important to participants.
 Practices considered most relevant to participants were highly integrated into the
Given these insights and related research, the study offered implications for
community college practitioners tasked with facilitating the success of nontraditional
students, including the need to look beyond statistics to take students' characteristics and
meanings of college success into account when setting practice. Doing so may not only
address what is important to students, but may positively impact traditionally measured
outputs such as retention and graduation.