The retention of the adult learner has become a source of concern for providers of adult education. In determining how to increase the persistency of the adult learner it is important:
To assess the reasons contributing to the low attrition rates of the adult learner
To evaluate programs and services to help maintain student persistency
To assess what changes need to be made administratively to enhance the quality of academic support.
In evaluating these three issues, pertinent literature will be reviewed to help find processes to use in an Action Research Project that will achieve the goals of the learning environment as well as help with the retention of the adult learner.
The literature review will look at three areas of concern: (a) student needs that are related specifically to the adult learner and contributing to attrition rates, (b) programs and services for students, and (c) advising and academic support.
Wonacott, M.E., (2001). Adult Students: Recruitment and Retention, Retrieved February
12, 2006 from http://ss-dev.air.org:8090/eric/docs/pab00027.pdf
The purpose of this article is to look at the special needs of the adult learner and the factors that have contributed to the growing attrition rate of the adult student. The article contends that the retention of the adult student starts with the recruitment process and the availability and access to information and services available to meet the students' individual needs.
The Needs of the Adult Leaner
Attrition has become the number one problem in Adult Education. As adult students are becoming the new majority on college campuses it has become increasingly important to provide adequate services to meet the unique needs of this growing college population. Failure to recognize adult students as an integral part of the educational community will not only lead to continued high attrition rates, but in some cases will adversely affected federal funding to schools that do not recognize the diversity of the adult learner. The areas of concern for need assessment for the Adult student involve personal needs, financial needs and educational needs. (The needs that are listed are specific too, but not necessarily representative of all adult learners).
Family support system
Assistance with personal and financial problems
Financial Aid counseling
Career counseling and employment
Convenient class scheduling and online availability
Integration into student life
Relevant information about education programs
In reviewing the unique needs of the adult learner, the main point of the article stressed, that from the start of the recruitment process the adult learner should not be viewed as just a student, but should be viewed as a partner in the educational process. To achieve this goal the educational provider must look at the students individual needs and establish a mentoring relationship with the student that is built on motivation, counseling and emphasizes the relevance of education. Although, these factors are key in the recruitment of adult students, one must also keep in mind that there will also be adults who are resistant to education. Wonacott states:
…adult educators should avoid the mistake of assuming that everyone understands the benefits of education, especially literacy education…(2001).
In this regard, one needs to understand what inspires the adult learner to come to school. Adult students are generally inspired to return to school to enhance their careers or because going to school is the realization of a long desired dream. Sadly, when adult learners' needs are not met, the dream of returning to school can become a nightmare, under the pressure of job responsibilities, financial obligations and family concerns. Adult students must juggle competing demands on their time from study, family, work and other commitments (Wonacott, 2001). Adult students are also affected by health problems, low self-esteem, past educational experiences, lack of family support, scheduling issues, technology challenges and their general feeling that they are just too old to return to school. These factors in conjunction with the lack of on campus social integration, leaves many adult students feeling disconnected to the educational process, causing many of the students to leave school. The key question the article addressed is how to better serve and meet the unique needs of the adult learner. It is thought that early and continuous follow-up and attention, both inside and outside the classroom, form a constant theme in adult retention (Wonacott, 2001). Unlike the traditional undergraduate student who lives on campus and who is integrated into campus life, most adult students are integrated into a career environment and feel disconnected from campus resources. The follow-up then has to consist of integrating adult students into campus life, establishing programs and offering resources specific to adult students that will still allow them to maintain their personal responsibilities. Wonacott (2001) agrees that educational institutions serving adult students must make every effort to incorporate activities that will help adult students fit socially and academically into the school environment. According to Wonacott orienting adult students to educational programs are viewed by many as the first step towards retention (2001). If Wonacott's line of reasoning is valid then the first part of retaining the adult student will have to begin during the admission and orientation process to assess the needs of the individual student. The admission and orientation process can provide information on the academic process as well as information on supportive services such as childcare, transportation, career counseling, employment, and financial aid. However, the main goal of the orientation should also be to help adult students to set realistic goals and make informed decisions about their education. Effective follow-up will also have to be a theme of the educational institutions by providing teacher contact, seminars, tutoring, peer counseling and support groups.
It is evident from the article that the needs of the Adult learner are unique and that the attrition of the adult student is closely connected with the initial recruitment and orientation of the adult learner. Adult education providers must be sensitive to the needs of the adult learner and make a commitment to the retention of the adult student by setting attainable goals, helping the adult student integrate into the educational environment and develop programs to meet their needs.
Guide for Managers of Adult Education Programs (2001). Hudson River Center for
Program Development, Glenmont, NY, New York State Education Department, Albany, NY, Retrieved February 16, 2007 from http://www.hudrivctr.org/apmg/apmg_03.htm
The Guide for Managers of Adult Education Programs was written in conjunction with the Hudson River Center for Program Development and the New York State Education Department. The information provides a comprehensive guide to programs and information for administrators who facilitate adult programs not only in New York, but has value for any school of higher education that wants to maintain the persistency of the adult student. The article examines the needs assessment of the adult students through ten sections that incorporate information on staffing, program design and delivery and collaboration and cooperation. Section 5 of the article, Program Design and Delivery will serve as the main focus for the purpose of this literature review. Program Design and Delivery covers the issues that must be considered in developing and operating adult education programs (2001).
Programs and Services for the Adult Learner
The adult learner is no longer an enigma on college campuses, but currently makes up about 40% of all college students. For this reason many colleges have taken the initiative to look at developing programs and services to meet the needs and address the concerns of the adult student. Many of the programs that have been developed for adult students, focus on questions and concerns the students themselves have expressed:
Can I get credit for life experience and previous credits?
Is there placement testing?
Are there support systems available for tutoring and counseling?
Do I qualify for financial aid?
Is childcare available?
Am I too old for school?
These are just a few of the questions that adult learners have brought to the attention of the schools admission departments. The article focuses on addressing these issues and others to help the school program managers and administrators enhance the adult students learning experience by promoting a customer service oriented school environment. Most colleges already have departments that provide services for financial aid, scholarship information, counseling, advising, career counseling and enrollment services. Many schools also offer flexible scheduling, online programs and accelerate courses to meet the time concerns of the students. Despite these developments in educational services, many adult students still feel that these programs do not focus enough on the adult learner's unique needs. The most important aspect of this article is that in order for schools to retain the adult student, schools will need to view the student as a customer and the schools must provide services to acknowledge the experiences or lack of experience that the adult learner brings to the educational environment. In order to view students as customers, schools must not ignore what their customers/students needs to have as a part of their educational experience.
Learners approach education from a variety of positions. Some come with a sense of direction and a focused set of goals. Others come without a clear sense of direction and with no idea of how to go about learning (2001). Combining this diverse mix of students can present challenges for program managers as well as the students, especially if the instruction is not meeting the educational needs of either student. In order to retain students, the article suggests that instruction needs to be designed to meet the learning styles, goals and individual needs of the adult learner. Although individualized educational formats would be an ideal solution for many adult students, implementing such programs may be cost prohibitive and would not necessarily guarantee the educational success or the retention of the student. Programs that may be more feasible for the adult student to bring them to adequate skill levels for mastering college work would be to offer tutoring, mentoring programs, life and organizational skill development, time management or remedial courses for some of their general requirements. Encouraging students' to provide their prospective on programs, is a way to give the students' ownership for their education and also let's them know that that their opinions are valued.
The article suggests there are a number of principles that guide the development of effective education programs (2001). Involving students in program planning will ensure a focus on customer needs and expectations (2001). Some keys to providing effective programs for the adult student is by incorporating students to become a part of the process.
Create an educational environment that supports learning: Mutual respect and trust should be at the center of education.
Create a spirit of collaboration: Collaboration emphasizes trust, respect and allows students to feel they have a partnership in their education.
Draw upon the student's own life experiences: When students' share their experiences it fosters a since of partnership and makes the student feel valued.
Encourage self-directed learning: Collaboration and partnerships are important, but students must also development a sense of independence and empowerment in their educational experience.
Use small group activities to enhance learning: This allows students to become more connected to their peers and teachers and promotes a team experience.
Provide adequate support: By providing support services, the learning experience becomes less of a challenge and allows students to devote more time to their education.
Perhaps… support for the learner returning to school - study techniques, an orientation program, etc.
Throughout the article emphasis was put on customer service and integrating the Adult learner into the education environment by incorporating the student as a part of the program planning process. The article contends that programs that focus on learners' as customers are better able to design their programs to learner needs and interests (2001). This will result in learners that are more motivated and programs that are more relevant to the student. As schools become more customer service oriented the likelihood of success in recruiting and retaining students will be realized.
Frost, S. H., (1991) Academic Advising for Student Success: A System of Shared
Responsibility, Retrieved February 15, 2007, from http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/91-11dig.htm
This article will discuss what the role of the academic advisor is in relation to student retention and how the academic advisor plays a key role in the academic success of the Adult student. The article will also look at some of the barriers that advisors are faced with that can jeopardize the advising relationship and increase student attrition rates.
Advising and Academic Support
The job of an academic advisor is to guide students in defining their educational interests and career goals, as well as help plan an appropriate degree or course of study. An advisor also has the responsibility to enhance the student's educational experience by taking an opportunity to understand who the student is and what unique needs they may have. Light's opinion on academic advising as (cited in Bland, 2004) indicates: Human relationships are a key factor in experiencing a great college education. The academic advisor is no longer just a person who schedules classes, but the role of the advisor is to form a bridge between the needed programs and services and to help with the overall educational development of the student. This report focuses on outcomes of advising in the context of research on contact between faculty and students, students' involvement, and persistence (1991). The article suggests that schools should use strategic planning to design advising programs based on relationships of shared responsibility and focused on the students success (1991). Some of the barriers that can affect the relationship of the advisor and the adult learner are student to advisor ratio, inadequate training, lack of communication skills, lack of diversity training, availability, scheduling issues, and knowledge and skill level of the advisor. These barriers can severely damage the advisor and student relationship and may prevent students from reaping the full benefits of academic advisement, which may cause students to leave school. Because of these issues and the unique needs of adult students the report suggests taking a new look at academic advising.
By assessing the needs of the adult student population, it is clear that constant contact between students, faculty and their academic advisor can help a student be motivated, feel connected to the school environment and most likely will finish their degree program. However, it should be realized that advisors do not have all the answers; students also have to take responsibility for their educational decisions as well. Engaging students in the advising process is also another way of having students accept the responsibility for their education and become more self-directed. Perceptive advisors encourage all students to take responsibility for their life decisions as well as their academic ones. Students are no longer just deciding what courses to take, they are also deciding on their futures. When collaboration and shared responsibility are central to advising, an advising system can result (1991). As administrators, advising coordinators, individual advisers and those who support advising work together, the advising program can become an essential system in the academic community (1991). The main theme of the article is if adult students are able to form a partnership with their advisor then the long-term effects of the advising collaboration will be realized by the student's educational success. When a student is unable to make this connection then everyone looses and the student most likely will not finish school. Although not intended as final solutions, the article presents some recommendations that may help improve the advising process and promote student retention:
Advising should be a college wide initiative and centered around the student's specific educational needs.
Advising should emphasis the concepts of shared responsibility for both students and advisors.
The advising relationship should not be just about selecting courses, but looked at as life development.
Conclusion: Tying everything together
The articles that were reviewed took a brief look at the unique needs of the adult learner and the necessity of developing or enhancing programs that will allow adult students to reach their educational goals. The last article that was reviewed focused on incorporating the viewpoints of both the students 'needs and programs together through the role of academic advisement. The central themes of all the articles that were reviewed emphasized one of shared responsibility, customer service and creating partnerships between the educational environment and the student fosters growth and development.
Using information from the literature reviews helps define the basis for the action research project Developing Effective Strategies to Enhance the Quality of Academic Support for the Retention of the Adult Learner by looking at reasons contributing to the attrition rates of the adult student, looking a programs to maintain student persistency and changes that need to be made administratively through academic advising.