Dissertation

Fulfilling the promise: financing education for nontraditional students

This study sought to capture a broad understanding of how federal financial aid is distributed among nontraditional and traditional students enrolled in public community colleges and how federal financial aid contributes to their educational success. The study analyzed data for approximately 3,940 nontraditional students and 2,060 traditional students who began their postsecondary education in public community colleges and applied for federal financial aid. The study used descriptive statistics to provide context on the access and use of federal financial aid among nontraditional and traditional students within their first, second, and third years; it also used six multinomial logistic regressions to measure the effects financial aid had on their persistence and completion within their first, second, and third years while controlling for extraneous factors. The study used multiple imputation to handle missing data for six variables of interest and propensity score covariate adjustments to account for endogeneity bias associated with estimating the effects of financial aid on student success. The results of the descriptive statistics suggested that among those who applied for federal aid, nontraditional students were generally more likely to receive federal financial aid and received more in aid on average than their traditional peers after the first year of enrollment. More specifically, nontraditional students tended to receive more on average in federal loans, while traditional students tended to receive more on average in federal grants across their first, second, and third years. Additionally, the study found that Pell Grants, subsidized loans, and unsubsidized loans were significant predictors for persistence and completion within the first, second, and third years among nontraditional and traditional students. The effects varied substantially by year, but federal financial aid generally had a greater positive effect on persistence and completion for nontraditional students (10% and 9%, respectively) than for traditional students (6% and -1%, respectively) collectively across three years. The findings from the study reveal opportunities for changes in federal financial aid policy and community college institutional practices. Improving access to federal financial aid may serve to increase the attainment rates of nontraditional students enrolled in public community colleges. As nontraditional students form the majority enrollment in these institutions, it is paramount that steps are taken to increase their success

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