Crossing the finish line : a narrative case study in understanding the persistence of non-traditional students with PTSD.


The retention of students is paramount to the success of higher education institutions. If a university cannot retain its student population, they run the risk of suffering financial loss. As the number of non-traditional students entering higher education increases, it is essential to understand how to retain this population of students. Research in this area indicates that non-traditional students require different retention plans than their traditional counterparts. This study added to the knowledge of student persistence to graduation in a university setting by focusing on why non-traditional students with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) persist to graduation. The demographics of college students have shifted from traditional first-year students to non-traditional students (Adams, 2013). Many of these non-traditional students are veterans who struggle with their transition into a university setting. This qualitative narrative case study relied on semi-structured interviews and reflections of four participants to give insight into the lived experiences of non-traditional students with PTSD who persisted to graduation at a private university in San Antonio, TX. The primary research question was: What experiences did non-traditional students who have PTSD deem beneficial to their persistence for degree completion? Data were analyzed using an a priori theoretical framework guided by Bean and Eaton’s (2000, 2001) Psychological Model of College Student Retention. I conducted an analysis for each participant and provided a detailed description of the data. From this, I performed a within case analysis, then followed with a thematic analysis to highlight and identify the emergent themes from the data (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This study yielded three main themes grounded in the environmental factors contributing to student persistence. Self-efficacy, positive coping approaches, and attributions contributed to students’ persistence in and out of the university environment. This study challenges university leadership and student success offices to create specific and proactive retention plans and provide opportunities for the non-traditional student population to succeed.



Non-traditional students. Retention. Persistence. PTSD.