Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Nontraditional Adult Masters Degree Students and Their Choice of Program of Study

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Nontraditional Adult Masters Degree Students and Their Choice of Program of Study

Article excerpt


According to the American Council on Education (2006), it is estimated that more than 40 percent of students enrolled in degree granting programs in higher education are nontraditional, adult students, age 25 or older. Of these students, 6 million are entering graduate school as working adults. Yet, there has been surprisingly little research done on understanding the demographics and profiles of the working adult graduate student (Aslanian, 2001) or their choice of program of study. This research is needed as these students have a distinctly different profile than those students pursuing a graduate degree immediately following completion of an undergraduate degree, with an increasing number of colleges offering courses and programs aimed at these nontraditional students.

The primary rationale of the study is to investigate potential relationship(s) among student demographics and the program of study of adults entering an evening graduate health administration, leadership, or general business degree program. Understanding the demographics and profiles of these adult students is valuable information for university administrators and program directors allowing them to concentrate their marketing and recruitment efforts on "...developing and maintaining a strategic fit between the institution's goals and capabilities and its changing marketing opportunities" (Kotler and Fox, 1985). It may also allow those responsible for instruction to better craft the curriculum to meet the needs of this population. Furthermore, it may allow employers to better understand which types of employees are seeking additional education, what the managerial workforce will look like in the future, and anticipate changes in organizational behavior and psychology. Thus, the specific goals of this study are to (a) identify and put forth a profile of these adult students and their characteristics, and (b) explore the potential relationship among demographic variables on the program of study choice of these students.

To induce our study, we surveyed all nontraditional adult graduate students in the College of Business at a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredited private university with an established academic reputation in excess of one hundred years, pursuing a program of study of either a Master of Health Administration (MHA), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Science in Leadership and Organizational Change (MSL), MBA/MHA combination, or MBA/MSL combination with respect to personal demographics. We then use multinomial logistic regression (MLR), to identify potential relationships among selected demographic variables and the program of study (e.g. MHA, MBA, MSL). By collecting and examining this original data, we endeavor to add to the body of knowledge regarding adult student profiles and their relationships to programs of study that have been overlooked in previous research specifically related to mature students pursuing graduate education in business disciplines.


As early as the 1960s, researchers began to realize there was a difference between traditional and nontraditional college students. Houle (1961) was the first to identify differing motivations of adult students. These orientations were named "Houle's Typology." Prior to Houle's research, no previous research examined constructs outside the field of education (Courtney, 1992). The majority of work by other researchers on adult students extended Houle's work on motivational factors. These relate to factors such as intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (e.g. Deci, 1971; Vallerand, 1997), the interaction of participants (e.g. Grotelueschen and Caulley, 1977), and the "chain of responses" (e.g. Cross, 1981), but are not of direct interest to the present study.

As the number of nontraditional students began to grow, interest increased in identifying traits and profiles of the nontraditional student (Courtney, 1992). …

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