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Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

W. Hal Knight

Committee Members

Harold Whitmore, Nancy Dishner, Terrence A. Tollefson


Over 42% of students re-entering education in the United States are age 24 or older (NCES, 2002). Community colleges offer financial, academic, and geographic accessibility making them a viable option for adults seeking to re-enter education (Cohen & Brawer, 1996).

The purpose of this study was to learn more about the life transitions that precipitate entry into a community college. The researcher also sought to bring insights about the experiences of being an adult student returning to education at a community college. Research participants included 24 adult re-entry students and recent graduates at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Through indepth interviews, the personal experiences of the life transitions that prompted college entrance and the experience of being enrolled in college were explored.

Qualitative research techniques were used in this study. Interviews were tape recorded and transcribed. The findings derived from the data analysis were presented thematically as they addressed the research questions.

The findings revealed that participants returned to education because of job-related concerns (typically a layoff or company's closing) or an issue of timing (a feeling that it was "time" to return). Re-entry students faced barriers that were both institutional and personal as they navigated the educational process. Participants reported that financial, geographic, and academic accessibility of the college made it a resource in itself. Finally, participants suggested implementing a specialized, adult, student-focused orientation course, on-site daycare services, and campus activities supportive of needs of students returning to the academic world.

Recommendations included a quantitative study involving a survey with a larger sample of adult re-entry students. The data could provide a richer examination of the similarities and differences among the re-entry college population. Recommendations for practice included an orientation class specifically designed to attract and meet the needs of adult re-entry students at the community college level; the establishment of a comprehensive, developmentally-based childcare service located on the college campus; and initial and follow-up contacts by a counselor designated as an adult, re-entry student contact and resource person in the student services division.

Document Type

Dissertation - restricted


Copyright by the authors.