adult learners who are they and what do they want

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This is the first report from my adult learner and the workplace research.


  • 1. ADULT LEARNERS WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT DO THEY WANT?Niki PerkinsDirector of Career ServicesBaker College OnlineBaker Center for Graduate StudiesFlint, MIDr. Phil GardnerDirector, CERIMichigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI
  • 2. Adult Learners - Who Are They and What Do They WantTable of ContentsIntroduction 3Methods 4Part IProfile and Background of Responding Adult Learners From Four Year Institutions.5Why Attend College.. 6Sense of Self8Family Involvement 9Part IICareer Plans and Concerns 10Part IIIWork History and Attitudes about Work11Work History.. 11Job Surfing and Reneging.. 12Work Life Identity 13Job Characteristics. 14Part IVChallenges Faced by Adult Learners. 16Working With Adult Learners to Facilitate the Transition from College to Work. 16Endnotes 18References 20Page 2
  • 3. Adult Learners - Who Are They and What Do They WantIntroductionWhen one thinks of college today, images of Saturday afternoon football games with sun-drenched coeds rabidlycheering and passing bodies up the stadium, classes filled with bright young minds, absorbing knowledge at thefeet of their professors, or late-night bull sessions in dorm rooms easily come to mind. How reflective are theseimages of students in todays world? Traditional age college students between the ages 18 to 24 who areattending college full-time and not working full-time (35 hours or more a week) comprise a smaller percentage ofstudents enrolled for credit at for-profit and non-profit colleges and universities in the United States than theydid a decade ago (BLS, 2009, Orszag,, Pema, 2010). Research reveals much about traditional studentsincluding learning and pedagogy strategies, developmental issues, and career expectations. However, literatureon the broader group of adult learners (often termed non-traditional) is less available, particularly in the area ofcareer expectations, transition readiness, and work force attachment.In todays devastating economy, where job growth has been lagging behind in the slow economic recovery,workers or potential workers without certifiable skills (post-secondary credential or degree) have very fewopportunities to gain meaningful employment. Adult participation in college courses continues to rise in anattempt to gain knowledge, skills and competencies that allow students to be more competitive in the jobmarket. A challenge for college administrators, faculty, advisors and employers is the lack of information aboutadult learners that would assist in identifying successful paths from college into the workplace.This report is the first in a series and draws upon survey responses from nearly 12,000 adult learners from elevencolleges and universities that serve non-traditional adults. The first objective of this study, led by Baker Collegeand supported by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, was to develop aprofile of adult learners and identify possible academic and career programs and strategies to position them forsuccessful transition into the workplace. The profile focuses on career aspirations, attitudes toward work,support systems for sustaining education and employment efforts, work history, and job expectations. The targetgroup was adult learners over age 25, who were entering college for the first time, re-enrolling to complete apreviously started degree, or for additional training. Page 3
  • 4. Adult Learners - Who Are They and What Do They WantMethodsParticipantsNo precise definition of non-traditional college student exists on which to structure our target population for thisstudy (see Endnote 1). After examining the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) explanation of non-traditional students, we used the following parameters for the students to be included in this study: Adult learners over the age of 25 who delayed enrollment in college after high school until after the age of 24. This group also includes students who completed their high school degree through GED as well as those who have not completed high school but enrolled in a right to try institution. Adult learners over the age of 25 who may have attempted college but never earned a degree; completed a credential program or apprenticeship after high school but have not attempted a two or four year college program. Adult learners over the age of 25 who have earned a two year degree and have returned to college to obtain a four year degree.The survey also gathered information regarding the other conditions that NCES uses to identify non-traditionalstudents, including work status, dependents, financial dependence, and marital status.Inquiries were made to a number of institutions who serve non-traditional populations, inviting them to partnerin this study. The for-profit institutions we approached declined to participate. Several community collegesexpressed interest but we had difficulty in coordinating and gaining approval from the appropriate parties.Community colleges are too important in educating adult learners not to have a research design appropriate fortheir institutions. We decided to pursue a separate study just focusing on community colleges in the future. As aresult, for this study we focused on four-year institutions. Ten other institutions, in addition to Baker College,joined the study (see Endnote 2) and agreed to solicit students to complete the survey.SurveyA survey instrument was developed that adapted many of the scales used by Gardner and Chao at MichiganState University in their study of traditional college students and young professionals. We modified their scale toaccommodate the situation we expected to find among adult learners, including support from non-parentalsources, such as spousal and children support. This scale covers college to work transitions, such as job surfing(moving from job to job searching for correct fit), career planning, external pressures in career choice, parentalPage 4
  • 5. Adult Learners - Who Are They and What Do They Wantinvolvement, and job and children relationship. In addition we included several widely used scales that measurecareer concerns, work-life identify, superiority, self-confidence, work-life balance, and career outlook. Generalquestions were asked regarding work history, motivation to attend college, and a standard set of socio-economicquestions. The survey is available upon request.Data CollectionThe survey was administered on-line, using SurveyMonkey as the provider, between January and May 2010.Institutions sent email invitations to the defined student population beginning in January with reminders shortlyafter spring break.Part I. Profile and Background of Responding Adult Learners from Four Year InstitutionsApproximately 11,900 attempted the survey and provided useable information with 75% completing the entiresurvey. Throughout the presentation of results all respondents will be included unless specifically stated.The majority of respondents to this survey can be described as white (61%), women (73%). Their average age was38, ranging from 24 to late 60s. Thirty-five percent of respondents were married while 28% indicated they weresingle, divorced or separated, and 37% indicated other or did not answer this question. Large portions ofresponding adult learners, 37%, consider themselves to be financially independent. An additional 25% reportedthey were still financially dependent, relying on someone for funds to attend school and cover living expenses.They were likely to need support from a partner or significant other, friends, parents or relatives. Six percentindicated they received local, state, or federal government assistance. Only a few respondents indicated theywere homeless at the time the survey was taken. Eight percent of these respondents indicated they were living athome with their parents or they were living with other relatives and friends.At the time they enrolled in their current educational program, approximately 27% had completed a high schooldiploma and 29% had attended some college but never completed a degree, an apprenticeship or credentialprogram. Twenty-one percent of participants had completed an associate degree. About 20% of the sample hadalready attained a bachelors degree and were not included in the comparative report because they had alreadyfinished a degree program. Their data was retained for comparative purposes. Page 5
  • 6. Adult Learners - Who Are They and What Do They WantTable 1: Distribution of Respondents Based on Their Highest Degree Completion Prior to Entering CurrentAcademic Program Highest Academic Degree Before Enrolling in Current Program Percentage High School Diploma (including GED and right to try) 27 Some College No Degree 29 Associate Degree 21 Bachelor Degree or higher 20 Othe


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