Understanding the thoughts and experiences leading to the full-time enrollment of a selected group of adult undergraduate students in a midwestern university

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McPherson, John D.
Murk, Peter J., 1942-
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Thesis (D. Ed.)
Department of Educational Leadership
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The purpose of this study was to question a selected group of 28 adult undergraduate students to gain an understanding of the thoughts and experiences that led to their full time enrollment (12 semester hours or more) in a public, four-year postsecondary educational institution. Students targeted were age 25 or older and enrolled as full-time freshmen.Telephone interviews were conducted with 28 students. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. The transcriptions were then analyzed to look for emerging themes. The interviews were semi-structured and based upon an interview guide that was designed containing a section of open-ended questions and a set of demographic questions. Questions were developed largely using the findings of previous studies found in adult education and higher education literature. The Chain-of-Response Model (Cross, 1981) was used as a conceptual framework for the study.Findings indicate that the underlying reasoning behind adult participation was the realization of what a college degree would bring in terms of career opportunities. However, it was life transition that brought the participation at this particular time. Many of the adults have had a positive attitude about what education could do for them ever since high school. However, especially for the women, family responsibilities were what had deterred them to this point in their lives. Changes in those responsibilities, primarily the children getting older, provided the opportunity for them to participate. For others indicating life transition the change occurred largely due to health reasons. Many of these participants were forced to explore other work opportunities due to a current disability or the realization that they could not always perform the physical nature of the work they were doing. Beyond those deterred by life transition, respondents reported a realization over time that college could bring career opportunities that were not available without a degree. Many were simply shortsighted earlier in life and now have come to realize it is not too late. For these students, attitude changes coupled with increased goal expectations were key.