Student engagement is an important predictor of student achievement and retention. This qualitative project uses Kahu’s conceptual framework of student engagement to understand how family influences the student experience in a group of mature-aged distance students. Previous studies have noted that family support is important but few have examined this in depth, and none were found that included family as participants. Nineteen students and their families were interviewed at the start and end of the student’s first semester at a New Zealand university. In addition, the students kept weekly video or email diaries. A thematic interpretive approach was taken with the analysis. Three types of support were identified: practical, including financial; academic, helping with study skills and emotional, encouragement. These increased student engagement directly by enabling time and focus on study and the development of skills. Indirectly, engagement was enhanced through the impacts of family on well-being, self-efficacy, and emotions. The findings also highlight important ways that the lack of economic, social and academic capital in lower SES families can lead to less support and therefore inhibit student engagement.
Keywords: Student engagement, mature-aged students, family support