Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version



Wilensky, M. R. (2015). Hidden on campus: The impact of parental illness on the college student experience (MA thesis, University of Nebraska).


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Educational Administration, Under the Supervision of Professor Debra Mullen. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2015

Copyright (c) 2015 Molly R. Wilensky


It is unknown how many traditionally-aged college students experience the impact of parental illness immediately prior to or at some point during their time at an institution. Literature related to attachment and coping and identities/relationships provided a framework for understanding family dynamics and traditional experiences for students transitioning to a collegiate environment. Literature related to familial or parental illness provides some insight regarding the impact of illness on the college student experience; however, this research relies primarily on retrospective studies and quantitative data. What little research exists largely fails to portray the voices and subjective experiences of students coping with this challenging experience. Therefore, the results of this study contribute to the limited research that exists and provides valuable insight into not only what some students experience, but also what future research should address.

This qualitative study utilized a constructivist paradigm to examine the unique experiences of three traditionally-aged undergraduate students who had a parent develop a significant illness at most, 12 months prior to their transition to Midwest Regional University. Midwest Regional University is a four-year public research institution located in the Midwest region of the United States. Qualitative interviews were conducted utilizing two semi-structured interviews with three undergraduate students who identified as experiencing the impact of parental illness as a college student. Overall, findings indicated this atypical and challenging life event did affect many aspects of their collegiate experience. This study illuminated practical recommendations for supporting these students, as well as direction for future research.

Adviser: Debra Mullen