The Academic-Family Integration of Non-Traditional Students: The Difference Between Online and Residential Students

Concurrent Session 8

Brief Abstract

Although there are advantages associated with online learning, there are some disadvantages that influence how individuals' experience the interaction between family and degree. This presentation discusses research on the difference between online and residential students’-both men and women- academic-family integration “cognitive, behavior, psychological, and affective processes of integrating academic and family.”

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Dr. Rockinson-Szapkiw has a B.A. in Elementary Education, M.A. in Counseling, Ed.D. in Distance Education with a focus on instructional design and technology in higher education and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. She is currently an Associate Professor within an instructional design and technology program at the University of Memphis and coordinates the EdD program. Dr. Rockinson-Szapkiw has authored and co-authored more than three dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and presented and co-presented over 50 professional presentations nationally and internationally, with scholarship primarily focusing on distance education and technology integration in the higher education classroom to improve national and international student success, namely persistence.

Extended Abstract

The current non-traditional student population is generally over the age of 30 and married. Most of these nontraditional students have children (Offerman, 2011) and numerous family roles (e.g., spouse, parent, son or daughter, sibling) (Smith, Maroney, Nelson, Abel, & Abel, 2006). A growing body of literature, which is primarily qualitative, demonstrates that these nontraditional students report challenges in balancing the academic and family domains of life (Hyun, Quinn, Madon, & Lustig, 2006; Rockinson-Szapkiw et al., 2017).  For, as students attempt to integrate their school and family life, disruptions in both realms occur (Rockinson-Szapkiw, Spaulding, & Lunde, 2017).  “[F]amily and personal relationships are sometimes strained and can even break down as a result of a student’s involvement in their studies” (Wellington & Sikes, 2006, p. 731). For example, in a study of 64 student couples completing degrees in psychology, more than 50% noted that they experienced a breakup or divorce during the degree (Pedersen & Daniels, 2001). Concern about the ability to balance school, family, and work responsibilities is cited as one of the primary reasons students who desire to further their education choose not to pursue a degree (Brown & Nichols, 2012). The challenge of integrating the degree program and family is a central concern for students and higher education personnel. Setting up boundaries to achieve a satisfactory balance between academic and family life is an issue that affects a student’s decision to persist as well as his or her degree satisfaction, level of stress, and well-being (Brus, 2006; Mason, Goulden, & Frasch, 2009; Offstein, Larson, McNeill, & Mwale, 2004; Stimpson & Filer, 2011). While higher education institutions have made strides in work-family integration theory, research, and policy for their faculty and staff (Sallee, 2008; Wolf-Wendel & Ward, 2014), the academic-family (AF) topic has not emerged as readily in policies and initiatives for students (Lester, 2013). The topic of AF balance of students, both in distance and residential programs, is understudied despite the fact that family is a consistent factor identified in persistence and attrition (McCallum, 2016; Martinez, Ordu, Della Sala, & McFarlane, 2013). The struggles that are faced, and the unique struggles and complexities of non-traditional, distance education students face are not understood.

Many non-traditional, distance education students work on their coursework and within the home. School and home are not physically separated as they are for residential students. The lack of physical separation may exacerbate stress and negatively affect students and their persistence. Although there are advantages associated with distance education programs, especially the flexibility, there may also be some disadvantages that could influence how individuals experience the interaction between their families and degree programs. There is no doubt that the interaction with family for all students is complex; distance education students, like remote workers (Eddleston & Mulki, 2017), may experience additional complexities that need to be further explored so that higher education faculty and administrators can better support them.

Thus, via the present study proposed to present, I will define the construct academic-family integration as the student’s “cognitive, behavior, psychological, and affective processes of integrating academic and family domains” (Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2018, p. 87). I will  then, discuss the creation and validation of an instrument to measure the construct and how it assesses the student’s satisfaction (cognitive and affective) with the interaction that occurs between the domains of degree and family, the l student’s assessment (cognitive and affective) of his or her functioning within the degree and family domains, and the flexibility, permeability, and communication the student uses to manage and negotiate the boundaries between the degree and family domains (behavioral and psychological). Work-family balance (Friedman & Greenhaus, 2000; Greenhaus & Allen, 2011), boundary (Nippert-Eng, 1996), and border (Clark, 2000) theory as well as persistence theory and literature provide a foundation for the development of the definition and inventory. After discussing the definition and instrumentation, I will present findings of a causal-comparative study and MANOVA that demonstrate that online and residential students differ in their academic-family integration. A discussion about the types of differences will ensue. A discussion sex differences will also be presented as the current study supports sex differences in academic-family integrations and previous research demonstrated that students, especially women, enrolled in distance education programs, have a “tendency to hide academic identity in outer social circles (colleagues, early in dating relationships),” (Rockinson-Szapkiw et al., 2017, p. 63) and tend to hide their familial roles (e.g., mother, wife, daughter) from doctoral faculty and peers (Lynch, 2008). “With close friends and family academic visibility [is important as it] served as a motivator … to persist” (Rockinson-Szapkiw et al., 2017, p. 63). Thus, satisfaction and effective AF balance may require different levels of flexibility, communication, and permeability of boundaries for the family domain and academic domain. This may be consequential of choice or cultural norms. For, some students, especially women, may desire integration of domains with flexible and permeable boundaries within the family and academic domains. However, to be taken seriously as a scholar or student, they have learned to set up rigid and impermeable boundaries within the academic domain due to cultural norms. Finally, after considering differences in academic-family integration based on sex and program type, recommendations for higher education personnel and students will be presented.