The importance of mentoring has been consistently emphasized in American higher education especially at the graduate level. Increased emphasis on research and teaching for faculty as well as migration to distance education delivery formats has affected the amount of time that faculty can devote to mentoring graduate students. Some graduate program faculty have therefore relied upon informal associations through graduate student organizations to provide support and mentoring to students. This study replicates the work of an exploratory study of mentoring in adult education graduate programs which occurred nearly 20 years ago through graduate student organizations while accounting for the technology-driven changes which have occurred. The results of this study indicated that current graduate adult education programs seem to be less focused on professional socialization and mentoring due in part to distance education delivery formats and changes in program structure.
Graduate education has been one of the hallmarks of American higher education. The broad array of programs coupled with unique dissertation experiences and close faculty mentoring have propelled a market- demand for graduate education that has led to increased numbers of programs delivered in an increasingly broad variety of ways, especially programs delivered through distance education technologies such as web-based (online) programs. The expanded delivery of programs has been in part the reason why graduate education completion at the doctoral level in education has increased 25% over the past decade, including significant gains in the number of Black and Hispanic doctoral program completers (Selingo, 2010; Weidlein, 2001).
The Digest of Education Statistics from the National Center for Educational Statistics (2009) indicates that enrollment in graduate programs has grown by 66% since 1985. Yet the ratio of fulltime students to fulltime faculty has declined over the past three decades (16.6% in 1976 to 14.9% in 2007) as have the number of faculty in tenured positions (56% in 1993-1994 compared to 49% in 2007-2008). The focus on graduate faculty to participate in funded research can challenge faculty-student mentoring relationships (Rhodes, 2001) as faculty are spending more time engaged in research and teaching and less time interacting with students through advising and counseling (Milem, Berger, «Sc Dey, 2000). Yet, this close personal contact between doctoral candidate and faculty members, both in the classroom and while engaged in research, provides the foundation on which graduate education is particularly founded, and is exactly what is threatened when faculty efforts become diluted from working with students (Rojstaczer, 1999). Additionally, student characteristics change rapidly, and their use and reliance on technology to mediate personal interactions can influence the extent that personal relationships can be forged between faculty and students (Tapscott, 1998; Howe & Straus, 2000).
The strains between faculty and graduate students are particularly acute in programs that are relatively smaller than peer programs. Disciplines in education such as rehabilitation counseling, higher education, student development, vocational education, and particularly adult education often lack the size, funding, and notoriety of presence to maintain low faculty-student ratios, control the funding necessary for large cohorts of funded graduate assistants, and to be seen as critical elements in the arena of graduate education. Additionally, when programs such as these are housed in larger colleges or schools of education, their prominence can be mediated when compared to programs that directly address public education, such as teacher and administrator preparation. Programs such as these do play important roles and adult education programs play a particularly crucial role in the preparation of individuals to work in areas such as nonprofit management, adult literacy, community leadership, and career education and training. …