Meeting the Special Needs of Adult Students

By Deborah Kilgore; Penny J. Rice | Go to book overview

Adult learners juggle multiple roles while attending
institutions of higher education. Adult students' roles and
the implications for adults' success in college are
discussed in this chapter.


2
Multiple Roles of Adult Learners

Ellen E. Fairchild

As readers will find in other chapters of this volume, adult, or nontraditional, students compose one of the fastest growing segments of higher education's student populations. Adult learners' palette of life experience is colored with older age, full-time employment, and the roles of spouse and parent (Villela and Hu, 1991). The combinations of life experience and family configurations are as plentiful and extraordinary as the number of adults themselves.

Higher education is only one of the many activities in which adult students are involved. For one thing, adults often are employed full-time. In addition to their work roles, adults are caregivers for children and aging relatives, community leaders, and volunteer workers. Although adult students are unique individually, they share some common traits. Typically, adults are on campus only for classes or administrative requirements, as opposed to social or athletic activities (O'Connor, 1994), and they navigate college independently, without an age cohort (Benshoff and Lewis, 1992). As Carol Kasworm notes in Chapter One, most adults attend school parttime. They do not live on campus, are not involved in campus organizations, and their social groups are not associated with the college (Bradley and Graham, 2000).

Generally, adults take an interest in higher education when they have determined that there will be a return on their investment of time, money, and effort (Tharp, 1988). Because adult students finance most of their education (O'Connor, 1994), they protect their investment through their achievement orientation and high motivation (Benshoff and Lewis, 1992). Adults attend class, work seriously (Graham and Donaldson, 1999), and value opportunities to integrate academic learning with life and work experiences (Benshoff and Lewis, 1992).

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