Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Balancing Act: A Phenomenological Study of Female Adult Learners Who Successfully Persisted in Graduate Studies

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Balancing Act: A Phenomenological Study of Female Adult Learners Who Successfully Persisted in Graduate Studies

Article excerpt

Sarah cannot wait to be finished with school. Approaching the midpoint of her master's degree, she reflects on her challenges in the program thus far. Returning to higher education twenty years after completing her undergraduate degree in business, she is married with one daughter in college and another in high school. Her class schedule often conflicts with her daughter's extracurricular activities. Her spouse works full-time and spends much of his time on the road traveling. Compounding matters further, her school costs come directly out of the family budget. She hopes her efforts to complete graduate school will be worth the sacrifices she and her family are making.

Sarah's pursuit of a graduate degree is driven by her desire to change careers from business management to education. After being advised to pursue a teacher certificate program when interviewing with the local school board, she attempted to obtain information from the local university. Following this guidance, she tried to contact the local state university to learn more about the process. Reflecting on that experience, she stated:

   I couldn't get anyone over there to talk to me, to give me a clear
   guideline of what I needed to do. And the reason I ended up (in my
   current program) was at least they had it in a format that I could
   read. They had a very small staff there, but they had a person that
   actually answered the phone. But it still wasn't very clear. If
   someone would have told me what I know now, I would have done
   something different. I know that.

Sarah also discusses her initial experience in the classroom after navigating the admissions process and enrolling in her first class in two decades:

   The first class I took was a winter accelerated class. So it was a
   whole class in one month. It only met five times. So every single
   time you met a major project was due. I was very overwhelmed not
   having been in school in over twenty years.

After attending the first week of class Sarah realized her academic pursuits were going to have a significant impact on her family. She talks about the impact of her decision to return to school on her family:

   (The family) had a little meeting about 'this is what's going to
   happen' and 'this is what it means'. (My daughter) is in college
   too, but she was away at college, so mostly it was going to affect
   (my youngest daughter) because (my husband) is out of town a lot.
   And so, she was going to have to pull her weight a little more I
   suppose. They knew on the front end that I was not going to be
   available, as I was before, and they were going to have to pull
   their weight.

Sarah also reflects on the impact of her academic schedule on her ability to attend her youngest daughter's cross country and track events. Her daughter finished in the top 15 in the state the previous year. However, in the upcoming semester, Sarah will miss many of her daughter's cross country meets due to a class that is on the same day as the weekly meets. In a frustrated tone she says, "I even have a class on the Saturday of the state championship ... If you miss one class it's a letter grade (penalty)."

In Sarah's reflection, we can see evidence of barriers and obstacles that could prevent her from successfully completing her graduate studies. After a significant review of literature related to adult learning, Cross (1981) found there is "enough consistency in the findings to give a generalized picture of what people say deters them from participating in adult learning activities" (p. 98). She grouped these deterrents into situational, institutional and dispositional barriers, describing them as follows:

   Situational barriers are those arising from one's situation in life
   at a given time. Lack of time due to job and home responsibilities,
   for example, deters large numbers of potential learners in the 25-
   to 45-year-old age group. … 
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