Systems of Support and Demand on a Post Traditional Student

In early December 2018, my classmates and I delivered a presentation on our research findings about the post-traditional student experience, seen in this Facebook video.  My teammates and I studied this topic through the lens of “how does working impact the post-traditional student’s educational experience?”

Having gone through the data, we came to the insight that, while many students encounter obstacles along their academic journey, the need to work and establish financial stability often stretches the working student so thin that any obstacle they encounter becomes a speed bump, interrupting even derailing their plans and motivations for education. From technical difficulties to family instability, all challenges they face were equally impactful.

Recently I have read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.  In his book, he eloquently lays out how habits an events in a person’s life may seem small and insignificant, but in the long run, will add up to have a grand effect in the long run. The reason being is that each habit or even sets an upward or downward trajectory. It is only over time that we can see the big picture effect of the positive or negative trajectory. Take for instances the way a plane ascends and descends. You must set an angle for the plan to tip upwards or downwards, and it is only after a few minutes that you can reach thousands of feet above the ground or land on the ground.

When following the stories of our participants, we heard a common thread which was exactly that, a series of negative events that would over time build up to create a massive obstacle that prevents students from succeeding in school.  We also heard from students that opposite where the people and events in their lives have had a net positive trajectory, and they are well on their way to graduating.  In the cases of student that seems to break from these negative events and challenges act as a system against them, what if there was a way to engineer a system to counteract the negative on that steers students of their educational course? What if we can identify the missing pieces or identify and priorities the challenges to help course correct?

In the following figure, I’ve mapped out a high level-understanding on the elements that play a role on a student and the educational institutions, support structures and employers impact the working student.


In doing so, I have noticed that there are a lot of loose ends that require the working students to analyze, process and connect the dots. Tragically, as a working student, your mental capacities have already been exhausted by school and an undesirable job.

In next week’s blog, I am to take a deeper dive into the elements that may be missing, as well as a step out to understand what human factors can work to overcome the system of challenges a working student faces.