Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Education (Ed.D.)


Administrative and Instructional Leadership

First Advisor

Anthony J. Annunziato

Second Advisor

Stephen Kotok

Third Advisor

Catherine DiMartino


Adults who lack a post-secondary degree or vocational certificate quite often will struggle to find a job that pays a livable wage, particularly in higher socioeconomic regions of the United States. Unfortunately, many nontraditional adult students who return to school end up not completing their degree or certification program. These students often face risk factors associated with low socio-economic status that impede their success. This study examined the risk and protective factors encountered by economically disadvantaged adult students. Fourteen academically resilient adult students participated in one-on-one, semi-structured interviews to share with the researcher risk and protective factors they encountered while in school. Conversations were recorded, transcribed and then coded utilizing the extensive previous research on resilience. To date, there is scant qualitative research focusing on the academic resilience of adult students who return to school and are successful. Therefore, the researcher believed it to be of the utmost importance to focus on this group of individuals. This study finds that work, financial stress, family obligations, and in some cases English language proficiency were the most prevalent risk factors faced by economically disadvantaged students. This study also found that personality traits, family support, and institutional supports were the most important protective factors that fostered academic resilience. Recommendations include providing economically disadvantaged students with a stipend to relieve financial stress while attending classes, professional development for instructors to drive more self-directed learning, increasing course scheduling flexibility, and mandating counseling for all adult students.