What student support practitioners know about non-traditional students: a practice-based approach

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Student support practitioners, who provide personal counseling and academic advising to non-traditional students, play a key role in widening participation efforts, but their perspectives are rarely researched. To address this gap, this study draws on the practice perspective on knowledge and learning, and explores the practice-based knowledge shared by support practitioners working in Israeli higher education institutions. The study is based on interviews with 43 practitioners who work in 17 higher education institutions, and addresses their expertise, insights and practices. The discussion focuses on practitioners’ collectively developed understandings of the student lifecycle and their situated knowledge and support practice in the organizational context of academic faculties. Practitioners suggest that support at the stages of enrollment and withdrawal are missing elements in the student lifecycle approach. Advice at the enrollment stage could significantly reduce students’ difficulties, as well as the likelihood that they will change their course of study or withdraw. Support for students who withdraw requires a nuanced and contextual understanding of withdrawal–one that includes ‘healthy withdrawal’. Finally, practitioners suggest that it is more useful to consider the faculty or department as the relevant organizational level for student support, and call for a distributive structure of support services. This would strengthen relations with students and staff and generate faculty-situated support knowledge and practice. The study calls for taking into consideration the practice-based expertise of support practitioners to improve understanding of the experiences, needs and challenges of widening participation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2064-2078
Number of pages15
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 HERDSA.


  • Advising
  • Community of practice
  • Retention
  • Student experience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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