Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Stopping Back in: Portraits of Students Returning from Leave for Mental Health Reasons at the University of Pennsylvania
by Wigginton, Paige Donovan Adelaide, Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2017, 118; 10275460
Abstract (Summary)

Educational research has produced numerous theories attempting to predict enrollment patterns of college students. From Tinto (1975) to more recent student persistence scholars, too often studies focus on a narrow aspect of student retention or persistence like co-curricular engagement, pre-college achievement, and institutional fit. Interruption of enrollment is frequently depicted as a personal or institutional failure rather than a persistence tool utilized by a significant population of students.

Research that considers non-college life events is fairly limited and typically presents quantitatively or serves as a predictive tool for the types of students by demographic marker that will or will not persist. Mental health problems carry impact across demographic delineations and the population of students disclosing mental health concerns or diagnoses has grown significantly on college campuses. Research attributes the lack of enrollment in higher education due to mental health reasons at anywhere between 4.7% and 8.7% of traditional college-aged students who were once enrolled. A stopout is one tool available to students managing their health concerns while on the path to graduation.

Using Reason’s (2009) conceptual framework of student persistence, this dissertation explores the college experience for students who stopout due to mental health reasons and subsequently return to full time study. Framed by Schlossberg’s (1995) transition theory, this study views the multiple transitions a student working through mental health concerns encounters when enrollment in college is interrupted. Portraiture methodology is used to create meaningful portraits of each student as they return to college after a leave. Portraiture is purposeful in highlighting the voices and successes of this population of students.

The portraits bring to light a confluence of persistence challenges framed in Reason’s (2009) work. Organizational behavior and peer environment that students encountered prior to the leave and after returning presented significant barriers to participants’ successful transition. Sustained psychological treatment while away combined with an established plan of re-entry aided in students’ transition. More than any other resource, the participants found strength in the self as they transitioned back to campus. Implications for further research as well as institutional practice incorporating and supporting students’ returns are also discussed.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gasman, Marybeth
Commitee: Harper, Shaun, Herring, April
School: University of Pennsylvania
Department: Higher Education
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 78/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Mental health, School administration, Education, Higher education
Keywords: Leaves of absence, Persistence, Portraiture, Retention, Stopout
Publication Number: 10275460
ISBN: 978-1-369-83018-7
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