Adult Students' Learning Experiences and Their Expectations of the Student Affairs Programs in American Community Colleges

Article excerpt


The population of adult students in American community colleges is growing, yet researches in the field of student affairs seldom related to adult students. This qualitative research approached the perspectives of adult learners of community colleges in order to understand their learning experiences and expectations of the student affairs programs on campus. Bronfenbrenner's Human Ecology Model was applied as the inquiry framework. This study concluded that a) adult community college students were more motivated and goal-oriented; family members, teachers, and tutoring services were the immediate settings adult students turned to when facing learning difficulties; b) the accessibility of student affair programs did not meet adult students' expectations; c) cultural influences upon the perception of age and familiarity of student affairs shaped their learning experiences and engagement with student affairs programs; and d) senior decision-makers of the student affairs programs should play the role as the activator to take action on the full-range program reform to meet the needs of adult students. Several applications were provided for practice consideration.

Keywords: keywords: changes initiative, statewide, teacher preparation, families, disabilities


Student affair programs of four-year colleges and universities unite various activities and services to promote student learning and campus connection. However, the lack of residence halls in most of the American community colleges deprives students' traditional connection with the institutions. With the different nature of the institution itself and the diversity of student demographics, administrators of student affairs programs at American community colleges are facing greater challenges in providing multidimensional programs and engaging students in college experience (Williams, 2002) for facilitating their students heading to success.

According to Ender, Chand and Thornton (1996), learning success refers to goal completion in the American community college context. Since there are mainly nontraditional students, their goals will be widely differentiated. Therefore, student affairs programs must re-organize their resources to respond to students' diverse needs in maximizing their learning and success. Under this consideration, knowing how student affairs programs affect student learning and success becomes a critical issue for practitioners. Particularly, students will benefit the most when they know what services and programs are available for and how to connect them with their learning and goals.

The population of adult learners in postsecondary settings is growing, and adult learning theories have been well developed and discussed (Haggis, 2009; Kasworm, 2012; Kenner & Weinerman, 2011; Kucukaydin & Cranton, 2012). However, researches in the field of student affairs seldom relate to adult students (Williams, 2002). The objective of this research is to approach the perspectives of adult learners of community colleges in order to understand their learning experiences and expectations of the student affairs programs provided by their attending institutions.

Two questions guiding this research are:

1. What are adult students' learning experiences at American community colleges and how do they deal with learning barriers?

2. What are adult students' expectations of the student affairs programs at community colleges, and which parts of the programs can be improved to enhance their learning?


Demographics of Community College Students in America

With open-door admissions and lower tuition than that of traditional four-year institutions, community colleges in the United States have become "centers of educational opportunity open to all seekers" (American Association of Community Colleges [AACC], n.d.). Many researches and reports have shown that the numbers of community colleges and enrollments have been growing rapidly. …


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