Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Sources of Social Support and Self-Efficacy for Adult Students

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Sources of Social Support and Self-Efficacy for Adult Students

Article excerpt

This study explored the sources of social support and self-efficacy for college students 25 years and older (adult students), using a cross-sectional mixed method approach. Differences in academic self-efficacy were found between adult students nearing graduation and those at the beginning of their educational pursuits. Graduating adult students received less family support than did entry-level adult students. Results suggested the need for counselors to bolster adult students' abilities to seek support.


Non-traditional-age learners, or adult students, are one of the most rapidly growing segments of today's college student population, with individuals 24 years or older representing approximately 43% of all college students ("Profile of Undergraduate Students, 2003-04," 2006). Adult students are a heterogeneous campus population, typically juggling multiple roles (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002) and pursuing higher education for multiple reasons (Kilgore & Rice, 2003), such as the need for more job training, the desire to change careers, or a desire for personal growth (Kilgore & Rice, 2003). It is interesting that non-traditional-age students tend to perform at higher academic levels than do traditional-age students, despite experiencing a greater number of stressors and managing more commitments (Carlan, 2001).

Metzner and Bean (1987) found that, early on, social support was a key element in the success of adult students. Social support appears to be one vital factor for adult learners because it can increase goal commitment and student success (Cleveland-Innes, 1994; Metzner & Bean, 1987; Pierce, Sarason, & Sarason, 1991) and their ability to perform at high academic levels despite multiple stressors and limited resources (Carlan, 2001). Furthermore, adult learners seem to benefit from both emotional support (defined as acceptance, encouragement, and praise) and instrumental support (defined as financial help and support with child care and household duties; Carlan, 2001). Quality of available supports, rather than quantity of support, was most important for producing positive adjustment outcomes among adult learners (Bradley & Graham, 2000; Home 1997). If one takes gender into consideration, women, in particular, seemed better able to persist in school when they had access to greater instrumental support from their families (Carlan, 2001; Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Fairchild, 2003).

Social Support and Self-Efficacy

A primary benefit of social support may be the role support plays in enhancing student self-efficacy. Learners experiencing a higher degree of self-efficacy set higher goals, persist longer at difficult tasks, and achieve greater academic success than do those with lower levels of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1993; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992). In addition, high levels of self-efficacy mitigate negative influences of failures (Bandura, 1993), which may be especially important for adult learners, who sometimes feel that they do not fit in the college environment (Richardson & King, 1998). However, adult learners' self-doubts about their nontraditional status and their fit within the academic environment may lead to decreased confidence and lower levels of academic self-efficacy (Richardson & King, 1998; Schlossberg, Lynch, & Chickering, 1989). Given the unique challenges adult learners often face and the ways in which these challenges may threaten their sense of their own ability to succeed when returning to college at a nontraditional age, self-efficacy may be a salient variable in the study of adult student success (Schlossberg et al., 1989).

Sources of Social Support for Adult Learners

Non-traditional-age learners often are simultaneously engaged in multiple roles, including student, partner, parent, full-time employee, volunteer, and caregiver to elderly parents (Carney-Crompton & Tan, 2002; Edwards & Person, 1997; Fairchild, 2003; Hadfield, 2003; Kerka, 1989). …

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