Within a collage population, many of those students are considered nontraditional. They are usually older than traditional student, fresh out of high school. Nontraditional students may have responsibilities like households to care for, and they carry with them previous life experience from past careers. Starting over from scratch may risk upending the stability they have created for themselves. How do they choose which type of college to attend? By examining conflict, functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and feminist sociological perspectives, insight may be had on the mechanism of choosing the college a nontraditional student may attend.
Conflict perspective asks the question, “who wins and at who’s expense?” Karl Marx viewed conflict as the major force that drives social change, specifically class conflict as the struggle over resources by exploited and exploiting classes. Marx may have viewed the question of how nontraditional students choose what type of college to attend because of the “boundless thirst” for capitalist profit. Does a nontraditional student choose a technical school to quickly learn a trade, selling the fruits of their labor to the bourgeoisie? Do they attempt to change their trajectory by attending a prestigious ivy league university, straining toward changing their social class? Are they really just unknowing victims of the system the bourgeoisie installed?
Functionalism asks, “how does interconnected and interdependent parts of a system contribute to order and stability?” How does the nontraditional student act as a function of social order? The choice to become a better candidate for a job and have more opportunity may come with a price. Perhaps the nontraditional student’s family has to compromise by giving up opportunities that may have benefited the family economically or emotionally. If the nontraditional student had worked harder in their primary field perhaps they could have advanced instead of starting from scratch. Nontraditional students are often awarded federal grants for continuing education while traditional student’s parents pay out-of-pocket. Are nontraditional students an economic drain on the federal government? Sociologist Robert K. Merton would say that these functions (nontraditional student) and dysfunctions (family’s compromises) can be both anticipated or unanticipated.
Symbolic interactionalism asks the question, “how does our understanding impact the way we act?” If everything is a symbol and every symbol has meaning, how does this effect the social order? The nontraditional student’s self-awareness may have led them to ask themselves, “how do others see me?” and react by continuing their education. The negotiated order may imply that they attend a less expensive technical school that take less time to complete but they may challenge this by negotiating new expectations and attend a school with higher prestige. Whether the student chooses a trade school, community college, or university, a symbol of their effort will be reflected differently in their status. Does self-awareness influence the nontraditional student’s choice about what type of college to attend based on how others may see them afterward? Here, there the student, the college, the outcome itself, and how the student sees themselves throughout, are all symbols.
The feminist perspective asks, “to what extent are gender inequalities reflected in human interaction?” Are the decisions of a single mother different when picking what type of college to attend different than a single father? Are women expected to enroll in a technical school and if they do, will they be encouraged to complete their degree or certification? Will a male who dreams of helping people choose a college with a renowned nursing degree? Does a woman attend a college with a male led administration? The feminist perspective examines the unequal distribution of power.
The nontraditional student may make choices about how to continue their education based on how they are influenced in society. Their social class may influence where they fit in society and what types of opportunities are available to them. There may be unintended consequences to their decision and others may pay for their gain (or vice versa). The way the nontraditional sees themselves and their place in society may influence which type of institution to attend. Gender inequalities may influence what type of program to enroll in and if they achieve completion. By examining the sociological frameworks around each student’s choices, we can understand how they function in the society they are in.