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PHD - Doctor of Philosophy




This qualitative study examined the 18-24-year-old population of undergraduate students at one northeast, public university who participated in a structured gap program between their secondary and post-secondary schooling. Data were collected in three phases. Study participants emerged from an initial questionnaire that invited participation from the eligible university population of 3,355 students. Data included survey responses from 100 students, interviews with four respondents, and a case study of one informant. The four student interviews occurred on the university campus in audio recorded, face-to-face appointments. One of the interviewees, Caitlin, became the focus of an instrumental case (Stake, 1994) that reported the factors that led to her gap decision and her experience within the Student Conservation Association. Caitlin’s case was based on her survey responses; interview data; follow-up interview data; and photos, postings, and journal entries from her social network account which she maintained during her gap and her university experiences. Additional narrative data about Caitlin’s case resulted from interviews with other informants to whom Caitlin provided access. The findings detailed the pivotal events and critical features of structured gap programs, evidence of personal development, and the factors of access and support involved with attending a structured gap year program. Informants gave evidence that structured gap year programming provided them with opportunities to build resilience, become self-directed, relate to people, find independence, and define their passion. The significance of this study on the gap experience is that findings reveal how participation in these programs fosters dispositions indicating greater likelihood that students will enroll in college and persist toward degrees. The findings give reason to both high school guidance and college advising programs to consider the role gap programming may serve in addressing the ephebagogical needs of the emerging adult and for post-secondary institutions to appraise how they interact with this type of programming and the extent to which they endorse and credential these experiences for young people. The implications of this study are that gap year programming has a record of accomplishment for creating resilient, mature, and skilled graduates. It is the responsibility of educational leaders to shape the discourse about this record of accomplishment and to lead in ways that communicate the values of post-secondary opportunities that include gap programming.



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