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Abstract

This paper reviews literature on non-traditional students, role dissonance, and the unique challenges faced by individuals who must balance the role of postsecondary student with a multiplicity of other roles. From the foundation of Erikson’s (1959/1980) identity development theory; Gilligan’s (1982/1993) theory of moral development; and other research on role identities, the author proposes a theoretical framework for examining role dissonance and its effect on the postsecondary educational experiences and persistence of female non-traditional students. A developmental task central to the academic and personal success of the female non-traditional student is her progression from a belief that she must sacrifice herself to be considered a good person to the realization that caring for herself, in the same way she cares for others, is the higher good. Student development occurs during the process of re-evaluating and negotiating roles and the evolution of an internally grounded, rather than externally-based, identity. Concluding the paper are recommendations for practice and future research.