A Conceptual Model of Nontraditional Undergraduate Student Attrition

John P. Bean
Barbara S. Metzner


Older, part-time, and commuter students have composed an increasingly larger portion of college student bodies. The reasons why these students drop out of school are not well understood. The purpose of this paper is to describe the rise in nontraditional enrollments, define the nontraditional undergraduate student, and develop a conceptual model of the attrition process for these students. The chief difference between the attrition process of traditional and nontraditional students is that nontraditional students are more affected by the external environment than by the social integration variables affecting traditional student attrition.



This paper reviewed and significantly expanded on the work of Tinto (1975) and others to make it more applicable to distance learners in higher education. Specifically, Bean and Metzner identified four sets of variables influencing a student’s decision to persist: personal background variables, academic variables, environmental variables, and social integration variables. Background variables include various demographic variables, high school performance, and the student’s educational goals. Academic variables include the student’s study habits, the availability of academic advising, course availability, etc. Environmental variables include the student’s financial situation, employment status, family responsibilities, outside encouragement, and others. Unlike previous literature, social integration variables Bean and Metzner deemphasized the importance of social integration for distance learners, noting several studies indicating that distance learners were less interested in social integration and that increased social integration was not convincingly correlated with increased persistence.

This paper was the first to tune models of persistence in higher education to the unique experience of distance learners and other non-traditional students, by acknowledging the importance of environmental variables in influencing the decision to persist. This paper also defined many of its variables much more explicitly than previous papers, allowing for more explicit testing of the hypothesis. This paper continues to be very influential in persistence literature up to the present day (Rovai, 2003, Park and Choi, 2009).

APA Citation

Bean, J. P., & Metzner, B. S. (1985). A conceptual model of nontraditional undergraduate student attrition. Review of educational Research, 55(4), 485-540.

About the Study

Links to Article https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C50&q=A+conceptual+model+of+nontraditional+undergraduate+student+attrition.+Review+of+educational+Research&btnG=
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Review of Educational Research
Type of Research Review of literature
Research Design Not applicable
Intervention/Areas of Study Student motivation, Student readiness, Student support
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Age groups, Undergraduates, Underrepresented - general
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 2-year institution, 4-year Institution, Bachelors-granting, Private, Public
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities, Formal sciences, Natural sciences, Social sciences, STEM
Outcome Variables of Interest Course completion, Degree attainment, Learning effectiveness, Persistence, Retention, Satisfaction
Student Sample Size
Citing Articles https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=15239454715653346727&as_sdt=5,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en