Academic journal article Education

A Model for Improving Student Retention in Adult Accelerated Education Programs

Academic journal article Education

A Model for Improving Student Retention in Adult Accelerated Education Programs

Article excerpt


One of the more recent, important, and practical trends in higher education has been the development of accelerated education programs for adult learners, "a form of college education that enables students to achieve a desired set of outcomes in a shorter period of time in comparison to the conventional learning formats" (Lo, Reeves, Jenkins, & Parkman, 2016, p. 2). This type of program has been especially attractive to adult learners who often hold down full-time jobs or have other types of key commitments which limit them from enrolling in conventional higher education programs. Despite its popularity with adult students, student retention has often been a significant problem in accelerated programs, especially in community colleges (Barrett, Bower, & Donovan, 2007; Candela, Dalley, & Benzei, 2006; Chaves, 2006). Four year schools also faced obvious problems when it came to supporting adult learners, including those in accelerated programs. Bergman, Gross, Berry, & Shuck (2014) observed, for example, that adult learners in the four year school environment in both non-accelerated and accelerated programs graduate "at lower rates than that of traditional-age students" (p. 90). Lo, Reeves, Jenkins, & Parkman further pointed out, however, that the problem had not received much research attention, noting, "While the topic of student retention in higher education has been studied for years, the study of student retention in AL (accelerated learning) programs has only a short research history" (p. 7).

Coupled with this lack of research regarding the dynamics of student retention in accelerated programs was a lack of solid models for addressing the problem. Fortunately, what research does exist concerning the dynamics of low student retention in accelerated programs does suggest potential ways of fixing the situation.

Possible Dynamics of the Retention Problem

Sutton (2016) argued that the demographics for 21st century college students have changed greatly from even the recent past and that new strategies must be developed with adult learners in mind, particularly for programs targeting students already in the workforce. Coupled with this notion, was some research which suggested that faculty played a critical role in the persistence, retention, and subsequent graduation of adult learners in accelerated programs. Hull & Hinckley (2007) identified factors they believed contributed to the failures of adult learners who hopefully began the path to a college education but who did not achieve their educational goals. The researchers believed the lack of retention and degree completion was the result of the failure of public post-secondary systems, and, more specifically, the community college to meet the needs of the adult student. In this same vein, Galbraith (2004) challenged adult educators to develop an appropriate setting for students, one which allowed for full engagement in learning and encouraged persistence. To meet these goals, Galbraith thought the adult educator must be "constantly evolving and changing, making new assumptions about practice, thinking, learners, educational purpose and selves" (p. 19).

The above notions underscore the idea that teaching adult learners cannot rely on old and static models of teaching. Adult educators, according to Galbraith, also needed to recognize the diversity of adult learners and their styles, and use diverse learning methods to reach as many preferences as possible. Galbraith argued that "no universal prescription concerning the most salient style can be made, especially when the multifaceted nature of adult learners is considered" (p. 15). In this line of thinking, educators must constantly be evaluating what effects the teaching process is having on students and on their learning, a process contrary to traditional approaches to college teaching which often perceived all students, regardless of their level of personal growth and life experiences, as sponges soaking up the knowledge coming forth from the teacher. …

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