Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


King, Stephanie B.

Committee Member

Stumpf, Arthur D.

Committee Member

Davis, James E.

Committee Member

Coats, Linda T.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Community College Leadership

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education


Department of Educational Leadership


The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the role of studentaculty interaction in retaining nontraditional community college students. There are a large and growing number of nontraditional students, especially at the community college level. Being labeled as nontraditional typically implies that there are multiple competitors for the time and resources of these students. Often, nontraditional students are less connected to their institutions, and exploring the relationships between faculty and student is a way to meet them where they are: in the classroom. As a result of the label nontraditional being difficult to define, the researcher used seven characteristics to provide a variety of contexts for the interviews. The study included 10 students age 24 or older who had completed 12-36 hours and attended a community college in the southeastern United States. They were asked to participate in 30-minute, one-on-one interviews regarding their interactions with faculty and the role of these interactions on their decisions to persist. Findings suggest that continuity decisions are largely based internally. However, 20% of the participants attributed their decisions to continue to interactions with their instructors. Attributes that contributed to making the instructors more approachable were openness, being oneself, and speaking to students as peers, rather than subordinates. Throughout the interviews, the participants admitted to seeing themselves differently than traditional students, but they did not feel like their instructors treated them differently. They assumed the responsibility of initiating contact, but they also appreciated initiation and acknowledgement by the instructors. Formal interaction did not appear to be as important as casual interaction. Even students who appear to be doing well can benefit from interaction, leading the researcher to conclude that interaction can be beneficial as both a preventative and a prescriptive measure. Educating both faculty and nontraditional students on the seemingly untapped value of interaction can help increase the retention rates at the community college level.