Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

School Name

Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education



Major Advisor

Dr. Michael Vetter

Second Advisor

Dr. Grant Smith

Third Advisor

Dr. Brittany Inge


Nontraditional adult learners (NALs) account for near 40% of all students enrolled in postsecondary institutions in the United States. NALs differ from traditional college students in that they are more likely to be over the age of 23, have dependents, be a single parent, or be employed full-time in conjunction with college enrollment. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the years following, community colleges suffered substantial enrollment declines raising concerns for both state policymakers and higher education administrators.

This study sought to understand the relationship of perceived stress and perceived margin to meet new challenges of NALs enrolled at a public two-year community college in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic. Undergraduate students (n=118) age twenty-five and older participated in the study utilizing the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) and Margin in Life Scale (MILS). A Pearson Correlation showed a moderate negative correlation between the two instrument composite scores, with an increase in perceived capacity to meet new challenges resulting in a decrease in perceived stress. A Linear Regression analysis showed age was a predictor of stress with a small effect, with stress decreasing as age increases. For gender, there was a statistically significant difference in mean stress scores between males and females in a Pearson Correlation analysis with a moderate effect. These findings have implications for how higher education institutions measure stress and the psychometric properties of the MILS to adequately measure perceived margin.

Available for download on Friday, September 20, 2024