Ideally, education enables people to become more productive members of society, both as citizens sharing in democratic processes and as workers in the economy (Fry, Ketteridge, & Marshall, 2003). According to article 4 of Cambodian education law (2007), education is defined as the process of educational development or training for physical, mental and spiritual development through all activities that allow the learners to obtain a set of knowledge, skills, capacities and values to become individuals who are useful for themselves, their families, their communities, the nation and the world.
Lifelong learning is considered important in order to guarantee economic and social prosperity and well-being within a country (Hoskins, Cartwright, & Schoof, 2010). Based on Hasan (2001), lifelong learning refers to all learning activities undertaken from cradle to grave, including kindergarten and compulsory education, and it is often used in the context of adult formal and non-formal education.
In Cambodia, 77% of adult who aged above 15 uses their labor to make products but they basically follow the traditional style of production because most of them cannot access to education. And as a result the products are less so that there will be a bit difficult to alleviate the poverty if the adult cannot access to education. Fortunately, the government pays more attention to develop quantity and quality of education in formal system, and the government also makes an effort to develop formal and non-formal education to enable adult to access the lifelong learning (MoEYS, 2008).
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The Cambodian constitution (2008) states that the Government has the duty to provide quality education to every citizen. Every citizen has the right to access quality education at least 9 years in public schools free of charge, especially primary and lower secondary education (Article 31 of Cambodian education law, 2007).
Cambodian education system has four levels: (1) pre-school education, (2) primary education, (3) secondary education (lower and upper), and (4) higher education. Pre-school education is offered to young children, generally, from age of three to five; six years of primary education and three years of lower secondary education make up the country's basic education; and upper secondary education is offered to students for three years. General education is the education that allows the learners to progress their knowledge of morality and good characteristics by enhancing their personal, intellectual and physical capacity, and by assuring their use of knowledge and fundamental skills. General education is the fundamental education for learners to continue their studies and receive other training (Article 17 of Cambodian education law, 2007).
Higher education in Cambodia plays a significant role to develop human capital with technical knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes for sustainable economic growth, social development, and alleviation of poverty (Ahmad, Hazril, & Sam, 2012). According to article 18 of Cambodian education law (2007), higher Education is the education following the upper secondary education. In higher educational establishments, it allows learners to have complete personality and characteristic and promote the scientific, technical, cultural and social researches in order to achieve capacity, knowledge, skill, morality, inventive and creative ideas and enterprise spirit to the development of the country.
When the civil war in 1998 was over, the Royal Government of Cambodia considered higher education as a top priority on the list of priorities in order to be integrated into the Association of South East Asian Nations Community (ASEAN) by 2015 through implementing numerous mechanisms and policies to promote quality education for the students. (Ahmad, Hazril, & Sam, 2012).
The Cambodian education sector was eliminated during the Khmer Rouge reign and it was estimated that half of Cambodia's educational facilities were destroyed between 1975 and 1979. The resulting weakness of the country's education system was the result from the genocide of that time, the following civil war, conflicting political ideologies, and social instability and unstable political situation (Duncan, 2007). Since the 1990's, there have been some major donors such as United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the World Bank (WB) involved in developing the country's basic education sector. Although the education system has been helped by these donors, it still faces challenges in term of academic program reform to meet social and market needs. In the higher education sector there is an urgent need for qualified faculty lecturers and staff as well as reform of financial and managerial structures. To restore the nation and develop the present tertiary education system, the National Higher Education Task Force (NHETF) has been established, supported by the World Bank together with bilateral aid from the United States of America (USA) and Australia (Smith, 2003).
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Cambodian higher education is now gradually developing as the world economy becomes globalized. It has begun to integrate itself into regional and global academic setting (Chamnan & Ford, 2004). The first modern university that provides higher education in the country is the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) under a tuition - free and fee system. Tuition fee were first permitted in 1997, since then other private institutions have been established. Both public and private higher education institutions (HEIs) are improving themselves through partnerships with foreign universities. Presently, there are 91 Cambodian higher education institutions, comprised of 34 public and 57 private universities, in 19 provinces and in Phnom Penh. (MoEYS, 2012).
Non-traditional students have become an integral part of the total enrolment composition within HEIs for a multitude of reasons. In the past, many non-traditional students chose to return to school for the sole purpose of advancing their degree in order to be promoted to management levels or above. Presently, the consequences of a poor job market have forced today's workers to look for new ways of remaining marketable and competitive,
so if they cannot stay or advance in their careers, they would be able to change their careers
instead (Milheim, 2005).
Non-traditional students are defined as mature-aged students who are generally considered to be over twenty-five years of age when they attend higher education to gain undergraduate degree or bachelor degree (Milheim, 2005). They cannot attend universities immediately after graduating from high schools because they have their own problems of adjustment, such as lack of time, lack of money, and negative attitudes toward learning (Alan, 1991).
According to a report of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (2012), it stated that the number of traditional and non-traditional students in higher education continues to increase. The expansion of higher education institutions is reflected in the growth of the number of enrollments. The total annual registration rate of both traditional and non-traditional students has increased dramatically more than four times from 57,828 to 246,069 between 2003 and 2012, with approximately 91 percent of students paying fees in the public and private HEIs. Moreover, in the academic year 2011-2012, there were 1006 doctorate students, 14,127 master students, 207,666 undergraduate students, and 23,123 associate students.
Due to the development of higher education within the regional and global contexts, Cambodia has been paying attention to its national policies in order to strengthen its educational system since 1994. Consultative meetings between government and development partners were conducted to find out possible recommendations to reform Cambodian higher education institutions. First, the government has allowed the private sector to be involved in tertiary education. Second, the government has authorized public HEIs to enroll non-scholarship students on a tuition fee paying basis in addition to government scholarship which are competitively selected by the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports on the basis of the grade 12 examination results (Pit & David, 2004).
Even though there have been greater efforts to provide academic degree programs and support services for non-traditional students in higher education, they cannot attain a high
level of academic achievement because there are several main challenges for them (Flint, 2000). According to most researchers, there are three main barriers to non-traditional students' learning, such as (1) institutional barriers, (2) situational barriers, and (3) dispositional barriers. Institutional barriers are a result of the practices and procedures that exclude or discourage non-traditional students from participating in educational activities, external barriers are typically defined as influences more or less external to the individual or at least beyond the individual's control, and internal barriers tend to be associated with those which reflect personal attitudes, such as thinking one is too old to learn and to have good academic performance (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999).
In the world, powerful economic, demographic, and market trends are shaping the landscape of higher education, particularly for non-traditional students. As it is widely accepted, employers depend on increasingly highly skilled employees for their competitive success and growth, so job seekers need more than high school credentials to succeed in the economy. Presently, the market jobs increasingly require knowledgeable workers who have more education and more diverse skills than the workforce of the past, and who have the ability to continuously learn new skills (Merriam & Caffarella 1999).
As a result, companies that cannot find qualified workers cannot compete in the global economy, and workers who have inadequate skills and credentials limit their earning potential. While this has been true for decades, the wage gap between high and low earners continues to grow (Merriam & Caffarella 1999).
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Based on these reasons, the number of Cambodian non-traditional students who pursue their higher education in universities have increased gradually and they need higher education credentials for their jobs (Chamnan, & Ford, 2004). Alvina, Marianne and Wilma, (2002) stated that non-traditional students return to school because they may wish to advance in their current jobs; they may be experiencing family life transitions, such as death, divorce, or marriage; or they may have more leisure time and desire to acquire more knowledge. They may also be returning to school to pursue new interests, or they may wish to resume their education after having dropped out of school for reasons such as financial problems, competing responsibilities, or a lack of focus, maturity, or motivation.
These returning students often have multiple non-school-related commitments and responsibilities that they must also attend to while pursuing their educational goals. They may have families and full-time jobs, and returning to school often means major changes in their lifestyles. Non-traditional students often lack support from family or employer to return to school (Alvina, Marianne and Wilma, 2002).
Being a practicing teacher in higher education at Z university in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I have observed that non-traditional students usually do not have a chance to attain a high level of academic achievement in their learning because of several challenges.
In fact, the non-traditional students are trying hard to earn credentials with labor market value, but they normally face many obstacles during their process of learning. They may need to be approached differently from traditional students. Since they have been out of school for a long time, they may need help in acquiring study skills and techniques to recall information learned earlier. Also, because the thinking process slows with age, they may need more time to grasp new concepts or to demonstrate knowledge learned. As a result, they often have a lower level of academic achievement than traditional students do (Alvina, Marianne and Wilma, 2002).
This research study intends to answer the question below:
1. What challenges do non-traditional students at Z university face in attaining a level of
academic achievement similar to traditional students?
Significance of the Research Study
In fact, there is a lack of research in Cambodia on the challenges facing non-traditional students in attaining a level of academic achievement similar to traditional students. So this study is expected to offer some important contributions to universities, staff, and administrators who are responsible for the development and implementation of academic degree programs and support services for non-traditional students. Moreover, it can assist university personnel in developing programs and initiatives that assist non-traditional students in becoming successful in higher education. Importantly, it can also identify the challenges that cause non-traditional students not to attain a high level of academic achievement similar to traditional students, and can assist to reduce or remove these challenges. Finally, it can assist universities, staff, and administrators who are responsible for the development and implementation of academic degree programs and support services for non-traditional students to go beyond the challenges that non-traditional students have experienced so far.
The understanding of the context of the challenges facing non-traditional students in attaining a level of academic achievement similar to traditional students and how these challenges are manifested within the life of non-traditional students, provides more insight which could improve the methods by which Cambodian Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) approach in planning degree programs and offer support services.
Cambodian Higher Education Institutions that offer different types of academic degree programs for non-traditional students could likely observe different examples of challenges facing their non-traditional students in attaining a level of academic achievement similar to traditional students.
Although there is a lack of research literature on the challenges facing non-traditional higher education students in attaining a level of academic achievement similar to traditional students in Cambodia, there is research literature in some countries in the world. In fact, there is significant published literature regarding non-traditional students in higher education and these published works have provided higher education institutions, administrators, and staff with key insights regarding this growing population in higher education. All of these works also have provided an understanding of the characteristics of non-traditional students, explained how they differ from traditional students in attaining a similar level of academic achievement, recommended how academic programs should be structured to assist non-traditional students, and discussed what motivates non-traditional students to persist.
Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education
Choy (2002) indicated that in the United States of America (USA), 73% of undergraduate students have one or more non-traditional characteristic and it has been stated that the traditional undergraduate has become "the exception rather than the rule" (p. 25). The non-traditional characteristics of today's non-traditional students in higher education include delayed enrollment, part-time attendance, financial independence, full-time employment, having dependents other than a spouse, being a single parent, and not obtaining a standard high school diploma so it is very hard for them to attain a level of academic achievement similar to traditional students in higher education. Unlike traditional-aged university students, non-traditional students are not homogenous and vary in regards to career experiences, family life, and education background (O'Donnell & Tobbell, 2007). This group within the American higher education possesses a unique set of needs, especially if they are employed while pursuing higher education (Flint, 2000).
Traditional-Aged Students vs. Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education
The non-traditional students in American higher education faces challenges which cause them not to attain a level of academic achievement similar to their traditional-aged counterparts and they are not more likely to finish their courses or their programs of study (Pusser & Breneman, 2007). Terrell (1990) identified seven developmental needs of non-traditional students based upon what had been discussed in the literature. The needs identified by Terrell (1990) include: (a) low self-concept, (b) time, energy, and emotional demands, (c) establishing financial stability, (d) work and civic demands, (e) developing family relationships and caring for family, (f) questioning career choices, and (g) reappraise habits and interests.
While non-traditional students and traditional-aged university students have similar patterns of motivation, research has found no significant difference regarding their performance in courses based upon the variables of age and gender. However, non-traditional students may employ different learning strategies from their traditional-aged peers especially in how they respond to course test questions. Likewise, non-traditional students may be less confident about their abilities and could benefit from help in assessing their cognitive and management abilities (Justice & Dornan, 2001). Wolfgang and Dowling (1981), compared motivation among non-traditional and traditional-aged undergraduates through a quantitative study and they found that non-traditional students possessed higher cognitive interests as a motivational factor and lower social relationship and external expectation as motivational factors.
Another quantitative research study by Morstain and Smart (1977) identified five typologies of non-traditional students in higher education which affects how they approach the learning process among non-traditional students enrolled part-time in an undergraduate degree program who took evening courses. The five typologies include non-directed learners, social learners, stimulation-seeking learners, career-oriented learners, and life change learners.
Challenges and Persistence Among Non-Traditional Students
Giancola, Munz, and Trares (2008) surveyed non-traditional students in the USA and concluded that non-traditional students experience their own apprehension as they return to university and worry that they do not have the skills, time, and information necessary to succeed or to attain high academic achievement. MacKinnon-Slaney (1994) presented a theoretical model for encouraging persistence among non-traditional students in higher education. The model included addressing needs related to personal issues, learning issues, and environmental issues. The model was designed to serve as a heuristic tool for counselors working with non-traditional students in higher education. MacKinnon-Slaney (1994) identified two areas where the model could be applied to assist non-traditional students including attending to developmental issues and learning basic survival skills necessary to survive higher education. In a related work, Kasworm (2008) stated that "learning is an act of hope" (p. 27) and identified four key emotional challenges which non-traditional students face in higher education which contribute to the development of their identity as a student. These four challenges included seeking entry to college, ongoing engagement in the learning environment, engagement in learning new knowledge as well as new perspectives and beliefs, and finally gaining a place, position, voice, and related sense of value in the higher education environment.
A number of researchers have suggested strategies for assisting adult learners persist in university and overcome the challenges associated with their enrollment. Brown (2002) stated that efforts to assist non-traditional students in being successful should not only include new degree and non-degree options, but also vision and creativity, encouragement of development and persistence, implementation of services to promote non-traditionalism, high quality instruction, and finally flexibility in structures and procedures.
Mercer (1993) who researched non-traditional undergraduate women utilizing a quantitative comparative analysis suggested that colleges and universities offer workshops to assist students in coping with the stresses associated with college. Bradley and Graham (2000) identified strategies that could assist adult learners in being successful in college. Those strategies included focusing on learning activities, utilizing their existing knowledge base, looking for methods to make direct connections of content to real life experiences, and using class time for interaction with faculty and peers.
Cross (1981) identified three types of challenges facing non-traditional students in higher education in her seminal work include:
ï€¼ Institutional challenges are a result of the practices and procedures that exclude
or discourage adults learners from participating in educational activities such as
inconvenient schedules or locations, full-time fees for part-time study, inappropriate
courses of study, and so forth.
ï€¼ Situational challenges arise from one's situation in life at a given time such as job
and home responsibilities.
ï€¼ Dispositional challenges are related to attitudes and self-perceptions about oneself as
a non-traditional student.
Survey research involves collecting data to test hypotheses or to answer questions about people's opinions on some topics or issues. In fact, a survey is an instrument to collect data that describes one or more characteristics of a specific population. Moreover, a survey can be used to gather information about a group's beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and demographic composition. So, survey data are collected not only by asking members of a population a set of questions, which can be administered in a questionnaire that is mailed or e-mailed or an interview over the phone or in person, but also by asking them to fill and complete a set of questions by themselves (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2009). To obtain comparable data from all participants, the researcher must ask them each the same questions and surveys generally take one of two forms, questionnaires or interviews.
The research study is conducted in the form of a case study and non-traditional higher education students who are studying three skills - Civil Engineering, Electronic Engineering, and Electrical Engineering - at Z university are invited to participate in this study. A total of 60 non-traditional students participating in the research study are studying in year three and four. They study from 5:30 to 8:30 in the evening.
The researcher intends to use two methods for the research study (1) survey through questionnaires, and (2) survey through interviews because it is convenient, fast, economical and less-time consuming. It is also easy to conduct and the participants are available and voluntary to participate in the study. Collection of the data during the course can provide an opportunity for non-traditional students studying at Z university to reflect upon their experiences with a special emphasis on the challenges that they have encountered.
Survey through questionnaires.
Based on Gay, Mills, and Airasian (2009), a questionnaire is a written collection of survey questions to be answered by a selected group of research participants. Questionnaires are usually provided or e-mailed to potential participants. A questionnaire administered in this way is relatively inexpensive and usually permits collection of data from a much larger sample than an interview or a personally administered questionnaire. Lodico, Spaulding, and Voegtle (2006), mentioned that the disadvantages are that paper-and-pencil questionnaires shared to participants do not allow any opportunity to establish rapport with respondents and the researcher cannot explain any unclear items. Nevertheless, the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages, especially if the sample is large or geographically scattered because questionnaires allow the researcher to collect large amounts of data in a relatively short amount of time (Berg, 2009).
Survey through interviews.
Based on Gay, Mills, and Airasian (2009), an interview is a purposeful interaction in which one person obtains information form another. Interviews permit researchers to obtain important data they cannot acquire from observation alone, although pairing observations and interviews provides a valuable way to gather complementary data. Moreover, interviews can provide information that is inaccessible through observation because observation cannot provide information about past events, or the way things used to be before. In addition, interview questions can derive from observational data - you may see something and want to ask follow-up questions to understand the reasons behind particular events. Interviewers can explore and probe participants' responses to gather in-depth data about their experiences and feelings because they can examine attitudes, interests, feelings, concerns, and values more easily than they can through observation (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2007). Although face-to-face interviews provide opportunities for the researcher to know how each respondent feels about a particular issue intimately, interviewing is very time-consuming (Singleton & Straits, 2005).
Based on Gay, Mills, and Airasian (2009), sampling is the process of selecting a small number of individuals for a research study in such a way that the individuals chosen will be able to help the researcher understand the phenomenon under investigation, observation, or interview. In case study research, the researcher is charged with selecting the unit of analysis and the educational researcher's unit of analysis may be a child, a classroom of children, or an entire school district, depending on the research question (Berg, 2009). Singleton & Straits, (2005), mentioned that the most common form of sampling is purposive or purposeful sampling based on the assumption that the investigator, observer, or interviewer wants to discover, understand, and gain insight and therefore must select a sample from which the most can be learned. The benefit of this approach to sampling for case study research is the purposeful selection of cases that are information-rich or those from which the researcher can learn a great deal about the research problem. On the other hand, samples in research studies should be as large as possible, and in general, the larger the sample, the more representative it is likely to be, and the more generalizable the results of the study will be (Gay, Mills, and Airasian, 2009).
The sample is stratified on age criteria and gender which contains non-traditional students between 25 to 65 years old. In total, 60 participants studying at Z university are sampled and are chosen to complete the questionnaire and to give clear and sufficient information responding to a set of questions elicited by the researcher of the research study. All of the 60 participants study full-time from 5:30 to 8:30 in the evening and from Monday to Friday. Most of the students participating in the survey are male and a few of them are female because there are not many female students studying technical skills. The sample consists of 20 students studying Civil Engineering, 20 students studying Electronic Engineering, and 20 students studying Electrical Engineering. 30 of the participants study in year three, and another 30 participants study in year four. Talking about the age, 30 students are 25 to 40 years old and 30 students are 41 to 65 years old.
Data Collection Tools
In the form of a questionnaire, the researcher develops a series of questions regarding the students' experiences as non-traditional students in higher education. The survey will allow large amount of data to be collected efficiently, economically, and in a standardized manner. The questionnaire used in this study is divided into three sections. The questions in the first section are related to the background information of the participants. The questions in the second section focus on participants' conceptions of what counts as barriers to obtain high academic achievement in higher education. The questions in the third section involves with solutions to overcome the barriers. The participants are required to choose only one choice in each of some questions and for some other questions, the participants are required to answer in sentences. The three instruments are prepared and used to ask 60 participants studying three skills - Civil Engineering, Electronic Engineering, and Electrical Engineering - at Z university.
Data Collection Methods
After the three-section questionnaire is developed and copied, the researcher will share it to the 60 participants studying at Z university. This decision is made basing upon the fact that trust and rapport is developed with the non-traditional students and is validated by the use of new data sources which are emerging in the field. The participants will be required to respond voluntarily to each question based on their perceptions. They will be invited to a safe and quiet-environment room in order to provide strong, accurate, and reliable answers to the questions of the questionnaires. And then the questionnaires will be shared to the participants, controlled, and elicited for clear and sufficient information by the researcher during regular class time and it take about 20 minutes for the participants to complete the three-section questionnaire. The text-based survey is utilized to collect non-traditional students' responses and the participants are not allowed to see the responses offered by their peers. The Data will be collected for 10 days at the middle of semester one, academic year 2012-2013.
Possible ethical issues that may arise during the research study is critical to the success of the research and the most pervasive ethical issues relate to informed consent and the researcher's ability to have closely aligned personal and professional ethical perspective. The participants' confidentiality must be kept secret and it is critical for the researcher to respond sensitively to the requests while educating the principals about the researcher's role in the district and revisiting the conditions under which the conduct of the study have been negotiated (Singleton & Straits, 2005).
In fact, the researcher is a teacher at Z university, so non-traditional students will voluntarily participate in answering the questionnaires but they will not provide all accurate and reliable responses. The participants might feel afraid of being harmful to their private lives and their academic achievement although the researcher promises to keep their confidentiality.