Carolyn Coles Benton is a 2015 graduate of the PhD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Carolyn Coles Benton [right] at her Dissertation Defense, November, 2015, Yellow Springs, Ohio with Dissertation Chair, Dr. Elizabeth Holloway [left].

Dissertation Committee:

  • Elizabeth Holloway, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Philomena Essed, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Christian Blum, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Charles E. Campbell, Ph.D., External Reader


higher education, nontraditional students, associate degree, for-profit colleges, proprietary colleges, lived experience, academic success, narrative, retention

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Non-traditional students are a growing population in higher education, yet our understandings of the unique factors that predict their success have not increased. This narrative inquiry examines the lived experiences of high school dropouts entering the college arena as non-traditional students, attempting to improve their personal and academic lifestyles by acquiring a General Education Diploma (GED) in addition to obtaining an associate’s degree from a for-profit postsecondary educational institution. The purpose of this study is to better understand the lives and circumstances of students, leading up to their dropping out of high school. Participants’ reflections of their own college experiences, specifically to course experiences and interactions with their instructors and college staff officials, are analyzed and evaluated. In this study a qualitative design methodology is utilized through a narrative approach, which is supported by a storytelling format. Data collection in the natural setting is used to develop a narrative of the experiences of non-traditional students over a period of five semesters. It is the intention of the researcher to address the economic, social, ethnic, and racial experiences of a population of students including Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/Hispanics, certain Asian American groups, and poor European Americans. As the emergence of non-traditional students continues to grow to become a major constituency on campuses, academics, practitioners, and policy makers working with this particular population need to recognize their unique characteristics. Educational systems must recognize that retention efforts that are required to foster supportive and innovative systems that will foster flexibility and a nonjudgmental environment will create and maintain a culture of completion and success. The electronic version of this dissertation is at Ohio Link ETD Center, and AURA,


Carolyn Coles Benton, Ph.D.

Dr. Carolyn Coles Benton was formerly a hospital administrator at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. As a result of her previous experience in health care, she was able to identify the common disparities within health care and education closely associated working with underserved populations. She is currently working in postsecondary urban education, advising nontraditional students, and creating models for success among adult learners where cultural change and academic transformations are evolving. This dissertation is dedicated to my mother, Mrs. Bernice Henderson Coles, and honors the memories and legacy of my beloved father; Commodore Coles, Sr. (June 2, 1924-March 15, 2013) and my beloved husband, Louis C. Benton, Educational Administrator (July 15, 1946-November 2, 2012). To God be the Glory