Date of Award



© 2020 David R. Cartwright

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Brianna Parsons

Second Advisor

Michelle Collay

Third Advisor

Stacey Kite


The purpose of this interpretative phenomenological study was to examine the lived experiences of students categorized as at-risk, non-traditional adult learners who persisted in pursuit of their higher education degree. These students demonstrated perseverance and grit when faced with challenges that might have caused them to drop out of school. The lived experiences of the participants are strongly linked to their identities as working professionals and adult-learners. Recent literature indicates that several theories and models have emerged on the concept of motivation as it relates to success in higher education. Research suggests that achievement is not solely based on cognitive abilities of the learner, but rather on the combination of cognitive ability and personality traits, such as grit and deliberate practice. In the past two decades, one of the most important innovations in the US higher education system has been the steady increase in distance education through online courses. The institution in this study is experiencing a similar trend in online learning enrollment growth coupled with student retention and persistence challenges. The students in this study have demonstrated the requisite grit and perseverance to succeed even in the face of adversity. Students in this study also exhibited a strong internal locus of control and all had strong support structures outside of their educational orbit.


Ed.D. Dissertation