Non-traditional student narratives of Higher Education: developing, adapting and maximising capital

Year: 2016

Author: Macqueen, Suzanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Widening participation initiatives have sought to encourage the enrolment of non-traditional students in Higher Education (HE). The research shows that these students can struggle with adapting to and negotiating through the alien environment of HE, and with financial and academic concerns. They often need to juggle studies with paid work and familial responsibilities, and they may not seek support when they do encounter difficulties, for a variety of reasons. While widening participation policy in Australia has had a strong focus on students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, categorising students this way is problematic, and it may be more functional to consider students who are First-in Family (FiF) to attend university. Students in the FiF category often belong to more than one equity group. The current longitudinal study used narrative inquiry to examine the experiences of 15 non-traditional students in a regional university. Data collection through an initial survey began early in their first year of enrolment in a teaching degree (long recognised as a social mobility pathway), and interviews were conducted over four years as they moved into, through, and in some cases out of their studies. Narratives were then constructed from the interview data to represent the students’ journeys. Bourdieu’s thinking tools of habitus, capital and field have been employed to analyse the factors affecting the students’ journeys. In this paper the role of capital in one student’s experience is examined. Her journey demonstrates strategic decisions as well as some fortunate (and unfortunate) circumstances as she manages and develops cultural, economic and social capital to enable her goals. The data provides direction for university initiatives aimed at supporting non-traditional students.