Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


This qualitative study was conducted to attain a deeper understanding of how nontraditional associate degree registered nursing (ADRN) students experience nursing education. At a time when there is a shortage of nurses in this country, these nontraditional students add significant numbers to the nation's nursing workforce and often receive their education at community colleges. It was of particular interest in this study to understand the factors involved in the retention and empowerment of ADRN students attending a Midwestern community college.

Using phenomenological methods, six nontraditional nursing students from one Midwestern community college were purposefully selected to participate in this study. Data were triangulated from student interviews, classroom observation, student reflective journals, student faculty interviews, and literature review. Data analysis was guided by Van Manen's methodology for phenomenology.

The themes identified as representing the experiences of these nontraditional student participants were as follows: (a) Retention was largely an issue external to the academic institution (i.e., support from family, peers, and social systems); (b) certain faculty characteristics had the greatest influence related to nontraditional student nurse empowerment (i.e., caring, trust, consistency, mutual respect, an appropriate sense of powerfulness, and faculty tact or affect); and (c) challenges cited by the nontraditional student participants were related to the lack of adult learning theory application by their nursing faculty.

In conclusion, nursing faculty and nursing administrators should recognize that there will be those unfortunate occasions where a potential nursing student's external situations, systems, and realities will literally block them from achieving their academic goals at given points in time. In addition, nursing faculty should take into account that nontraditional students benefit enormously from caring relationships with faculty. These relationships promote the foundation for critical educational experiences, while they also promote essential self-esteem and subsequent empowerment. Lastly, the study suggests that by embracing adult learning principles, faculty can ultimately facilitate more positive experiences and greater learning.