Family and social capital for the success of non-traditional students in higher education

Suzanne Macqueen


Widening participation initiatives have sought to increase the enrolment in higher education (HE) of students from groups who have previously been under-represented. This includes students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, from non-metropolitan areas, and those with low high school achievement. These ‘non-traditional’ students are often from the first generation in their family to attend university. Non-traditional students may struggle in the unfamiliar environment of HE, and face issues not encountered by their peers. Recent literature outlines the importance of considering the capitals these students bring to university in order to avoid a deficit view (Devlin, 2013). This paper draws on a recent longitudinal study examining the experiences of non-traditional students. Data were collected through interviews conducted over four years as they moved into, through or out of university. The ways that the students utilised family and social capital (Bourdieu, 1990; Yosso, 2005) in order to succeed in HE are discussed. The analysis shows that non-traditional students operationalise social and familial capital in ways not adequately recognised by traditional notions of cultural capital.


non-traditional students; cultural and social capital; higher education; student equity; widening participation

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Banner image: Kira Jovanovski (2020), movement score 01 (detail): oil stick and acrylic on paper. Photograph by Kira Jovanovski. Cover image: Kira Jovanovski (2020), grunt_iteration 02 in the boughs and stamped: installation in University Gallery. Photograph by Jedidiah Cranfield. (c) the artist.





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