Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Influence of Time-Limitations, Faculty, and Peer Relationships on Adult Student Learning: A Causal Model

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

The Influence of Time-Limitations, Faculty, and Peer Relationships on Adult Student Learning: A Causal Model

Article excerpt

Adult students are one of the most rapidly growing segments of today's college student population, making up approximately 40% of all college students (Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, 1999-2000). While their numbers have increased, our understanding of the unique factors that predict adult student success have not increased likewise. The role of social integration is one that is especially unclear for adult students. Studies based on the experience of younger students consistently support the important role of social integration for student success (Astin, 1993; Pace, 1984; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Pascarella, Whitt, Nora, Edison, Hagedorn, & Terenzini, 1996; Tinto, 1987, 1993). However, these studies are based primarily on the experience of white, middle-class students younger than 23 years old, so their relevance to adults and other nontraditional students may be limited. This limitation is especially salient for adults because their lives often contain multiple off-campus responsibilities and relationships that may limit their time available for investment in social relationships.

According to Astin's (1984, 1993) model of student involvement, activities that draw student-effort off campus have a negative effect on learning because these involvements leave students with less energy or time for campus involvement. Thus, the growing number of students who commute, work, and enroll part-time are at risk for learning less because these characteristics limit their time on campus. Adult students are likely the most time-limited group of the college student population; nearly all adults commute, most work, and many enroll part-time, leaving them with less time available for on-campus involvement (Kasworm, 1990b; Schlossberg, Lynch, & Chickering, 1989). However, because of the overlap among these variables, it is difficult to identify the effects of each specific variable. Differences related to adult students may be mistakenly attributed to age rather than to the unique combination of these time limitations. For the purpose of this study, "time-limited" students are students who have commitments off-campus such that their time available for campus involvement is limited. These are students who commute, enroll part-time, work over 20 hours off campus, or who are over 23 years old. These groups are time limited in terms of the time available for on-campus involvement.

Many studies of adults put them in the category of "nontraditional students" along with commuters, part-time students, students who work many hours, first-generation college students, and students of color (Bean & Metzner, 1985; Kasworm, 1990a, 1990b; Kasworm & Pike, 1994; Kuh, 1993, 1995; Metzner & Bean, 1987). This presents a broad picture of nontraditional students, but since there is some overlap of students in each group, unique features of each specific group's experience are masked. Further investigation is warranted to understand the way each of these nontraditional characteristics affects student success in college, particularly for adult students who most often attend college in a nontraditional way.

Studies of the effect on student peers on learning focused primarily on younger students have found that peers serve a vital educational function as they engage students more deeply in the college experience, thereby enhancing their learning (Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). This raises an important question about the role of peers in the success of adult students. Kasworm and Pike (1994) found that adult students succeed in college at about the same rate as traditional age students, but they engage in fewer interactions with peers than their traditional counterparts. Moreover, those interactions are not important predictors of their success. This finding is consistent with other studies showing that social integration is relatively unimportant for adult student success (Chartrand, 1990; Kasworm & Pike, 1994; Metzner & Bean, 1987). …

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