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U.Va.’s Higher Education Center Receives $950,000 Grant To Study Nontraditional Students

March 11, 2003-- The Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Virginia has been awarded a $950,000 grant to study nontraditional students and how they attain their educational goals.

The Lumina Foundation, whose mission involves expanding access and success in education beyond high school, has funded the two-year initiative. The research will focus on nontraditional students’ access, equitable opportunity, and success in postsecondary education through such avenues as continuing education, distance and for-profit programs.

“Programs for nontraditional students represent one of the fastest-growing areas in higher education,” said Brian Pusser, assistant professor of higher education at U.Va. and co-leader of the study. “They are offered in every state and on the Web, by public and private two- and four-year colleges, and by for-profit institutions as well.”

The study will look at what effects state and federal policies, funding mechanisms and other factors have on nontraditional students’ access to degrees, training and credentials, as well as whether they have the same opportunities for meeting their educational goals as traditional students. The findings will provide a framework for future research on policies and programs to improve access and equity.

“Many programs for nontraditional learners have been expanded or created in response to the call for institutions to become more entrepreneurial and to raise additional funds,” Pusser said. “These programs generate billions of dollars for the postsecondary enterprise, yet there is a great deal that we don't know about how students are using the programs, including how well students are served in the process.”

David W. Breneman, University Professor and dean of the Curry School of Education, will co-direct the study.

“State and federal policies that shape the opportunities available to nontraditional learners will be a key aspect of the research agenda,” said Breneman. “The states and the federal government have historically done a great deal to facilitate the access and success of traditional learners. Our goal is to determine to what extent these opportunities for success can be extended to a very different population of postsecondary students.”

Supporting the effort will be other Curry School faculty, including Sarah E. Turner and Bruce M. Gansneder, colleagues at Harvard University, North Carolina State University and at the University Continuing Education Association in Washington, D.C.

The study team will look at two- and four-year programs across the United States, using existing data as well as collecting new information from students, educational institutions and government entities. Among the questions the team will seek to answer are:

  • Who are nontraditional students in continuing education programs?
  • Where do they live, and where do they enroll?
  • How much are they paying for their training, certificates and degrees, and how do they finance that education?
  • Are they employed and is that employment full- or part-time?
  • To what socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups are they likely to belong?
  • What sort of skills, certificates, credentials, degrees and training do they seek?
  • What sort of employment awaits them upon completion of their course of study?

The U.S. Department of Education defines a nontraditional student as someone with two of the following characteristics: has delayed enrollment in postsecondary education following high school; has enrolled in a postsecondary program on a part-time status; works full time; is classified as financially independent for financial aid purposes; has dependents other than a spouse; is a single parent; or does not have a high school diploma.

The Center for the Study of Higher Education, established in 1969 at U.Va., is an instructional, research and service unit of the Curry School of Education.

The Lumina Foundation for Education is a private, independent foundation based in Indianapolis. Through research, grants for innovative programs and communication initiatives, the foundation addresses access and educational success – particularly among underserved student groups, including adult learners.

Contact: Virginia Carter, (434) 924-1036

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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