Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Executive Leadership

First Supervisor

Loretta Quigley, Ed.D.

Second Supervisor

Charles Spuches, Ed.D.


Despite declining overall enrollment and projected demand, regional comprehensive universities in central upstate New York are not engaging nontraditional adult students to register and complete baccalaureate degrees. To maintain enrollment goals, institutions oriented toward traditional students could embrace their mission to provide access to higher education to people in their region, including adults. The purpose of this qualitative descriptive case study is to understand the program design features that affect nontraditional students’ choice to apply, enroll, and persist toward degree completion in a program designed for adult students at a regional comprehensive university in central upstate New York. This study explored three questions that contribute to the body of literature and build greater insight into this area.

Semi-structured virtual interviews were conducted with six nontraditional students matriculated in the program who had some college credits but no baccalaureate degree. Content analysis revealed insights into the program design features that encouraged nontraditional students to apply, enroll, and persist. Findings have implications for professional practice and decision making at institutions that have units devoted to adult learning or would like to establish them.

The study’s findings aligned with industry best practices, theory, and empirical research: adult students require practical, flexible, supported, intentional, and committed programs and services. Adult students apply and enroll practically concurrently because they have already researched the fit and analyzed the cost/benefit to their lives; clear messaging is therefore key to recruitment. Adult students require a fully integrated approach that understands and adapts to their epistemology, spanning academic design, faculty presence, student services, and institutional supports.

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