Perspectives of Adult Learners on Returning to College: A Study of Tenacious Persisters.
Persistence (1) In a CRT, the time a phosphor dot remains illuminated after being energized. Long-persistence phosphors reduce flicker, but generate ghost-like images that linger on screen for a fraction of a second. in higher education higher education
Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art. has been an extensively researched phenomenon. As important as the concept is, however, student persisters are notoriously difficult to identify. In this study, we examined a strand Strand, street in London, England, roughly parallel with the Thames River, running from the Temple to Trafalgar Square. It is a street of law courts, hotels, theaters, and office buildings and is the main artery between the City and the West End.
1. of persistence we called tenacity from the unique perspective of those students who had enrolled in a two-year college after at least one attempt at another institution. Specifically our purpose was to discover how these students understood their own history of college enrollment, as well as their perceptions of themselves as persisters.
College student persistence, which refers to the on-going enrollment of students in higher education, is related to positive student outcomes and the fulfillment ful·fill also ful·fil
tr.v. ful·filled, ful·fill·ing, ful·fills also ful·fils
1. To bring into actuality; effect: fulfilled their promises.
2. of societal so·ci·e·tal
Of or relating to the structure, organization, or functioning of society.
Adj. expectations for higher education (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2000; Pascarella & terenzini, 1991). Because of its importance, persistence has been extensively studied for almost forty years, and a wide range of theories have been developed to explain the phenomenon. (Tinto Tin´to
n. 1. A red Madeira wine, wanting the high aroma of the white sorts, and, when old, resembling tawny port. , 1993).
Despite the attention, however, it remains notoriously difficult for researchers to adequately identify all students who persist. A recent issue of The Review of Higher Education provides an example. St. John, Hu, Simmons and Musoba (2001) describe their research on students attending public colleges and universities in Indiana The following is a list of colleges and universities in the U.S. state of Indiana. Private liberal arts colleges
a. A secret or underhand scheme; a plot.
b. The practice of or involvement in such schemes.
2. A clandestine love affair.
v. model that suggests policy implications for admissions processes, they take a typically narrow view in determining which students persist. St. John and his colleagues consider continuous enrollment within a single institution in the Indiana Indiana, state, United States
Indiana, midwestern state in the N central United States. It is bordered by Lake Michigan and the state of Michigan (N), Ohio (E), Kentucky, across the Ohio R. (S), and Illinois (W). state system to reflect student persistence. Moreover, they concern themselves only with the spring enrollment of full-time undergraduates following initial matriculation ma·tric·u·late
tr. & intr.v. ma·tric·u·lat·ed, ma·tric·u·lat·ing, ma·tric·u·lates
To admit or be admitted into a group, especially a college or university.
n. in the fall. Clearly, this study is neglecting students who may have stopped out only for a semester se·mes·ter
One of two divisions of 15 to 18 weeks each of an academic year.
[German, from Latin (cursus) s or two, or transferred to another institution, or moved out of state -- students who would likely consider themselves persisters regardless of the definition imposed by the researchers.
The point here is not to nitpick nit·pick
intr.v. nit·picked, nit·pick·ing, nit·picks
To be concerned with or find fault with insignificant details. See Synonyms at quibble.
nit the decisions made in conducting this study; the authors are up-front about the limitations of their research. St. John and his colleagues (2001) devote a paragraph to explaining their decision to focus only on within-year persistence, and suggest that other dimensions Other Dimensions is a collection of stories by author Clark Ashton Smith. It was released in 1970 and was the author's sixth collection of stories published by Arkham House. It was released in an edition of 3,144 copies. could profitably be explored in future research (p. 138). This study, however, does suggest the difficulty that any researcher has in giving persistence conceptual clarity.
Adelman (1999) suggests "discarding" the variable of persistence altogether because of its insurmountable flaws and "weak architecture." He states:
Before one accepts a variable simply because it has been used for decades or because a federal agency paid for it, one must examine the bricks and mortar of that variable very carefully. Where the architecture is faulty, the data must be fixed or the variable discarded--or one will never tell a true story. (p.xi)
Adelman (1999) reports that over 60 percent of undergraduates have attended more than one college or university during their academic career. In an environment where most students do not maintain continuous enrollment at a single institution from the first fall after their high school graduation Graduation is the action of receiving or conferring an academic degree or the associated ceremony. The date of event is often called degree day. The event itself is also called commencement, convocation or invocation. , describing student persistence becomes difficult. While Adelman wants to do away with the notion of persistence entirely, the fact that students do actually continue their enrollment across some extended period of time seems essential. We therefore choose to argue for a reconceptualization of persistence, rather than its demise Death. A conveyance of property, usually of an interest in land. Originally meant a posthumous grant but has come to be applied commonly to a conveyance that is made for a definitive term, such as an estate for a term of years. .
While an 18-year-old student attending full-time at a four-year residential college is more likely to persist (by whatever definition) than the student who is older, works fulltime, attends college part-time, and has family and community responsibilities (Carroll Car·roll , James 1854-1907.
British-born American physician noted for his research on yellow fever. In 1900 he deliberately infected himself with the disease for experimental purposes. , 1989), the majority of undergraduates enroll and re-enroll, overcoming significant barriers while pursuing their educational goals. Theirs may not be a direct path, and it is certainly not the quickest. But looking at it from the students' perspectives, they are persisters. This significant student population whose college enrollment patterns involve attendance at multiple institutions and who have stopped out for a period of time during their enrollment may be considered tenacious te·na·cious
1. Clinging to another object or surface; adhesive.
2. Holding together firmly; cohesive.
viscid; adhesive. persisters, and every semester brings another opportunity for them again to be learners.
"Institutions may 'retain' students," reminds Adelman (1999), "but it's students who complete degrees, no matter how many institutions they attend. So follow the student, not the institution." In this study, we have our eyes on the student. We look for the strand of persistence we call tenacity by examining the unique perspective of those students who have once again made their way back to academia. Tenacious persisters, as we defined them, were students who had attended more than one postsecondary institution and had stopped out from college for at least one semester. Specifically, our purpose was to discover how one sample of tenacious persisters understood their own history of college enrollment, as well as their perceptions of themselves as persisters.
We chose a private, religiously-affiliated college in the southeast United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. as the site for our research. One of the authors had experience in teaching and counseling at this college, which facilitated our access to the student population. The college enrolls approximately 1000 students (the majority of whom are older, part-time, female, and drawn from the local population) and primarily awards associate degrees in the allied health fields. Regardless of previous educational experience, all newly-admitted students at the college are required to enroll in a one-credit orientation course Noun 1. orientation course - a course introducing a new situation or environment
course, course of instruction, course of study, class - education imparted in a series of lessons or meetings; "he took a course in basket weaving"; "flirting is not . This feature of the institution allowed us to study a cross-section of the entire entering student body, and enabled us to obtain a sample of students with widely diverse educational experiences. Students from three sections of the orientation course (N=74) participated in the research project during the spring and summer 2000 semesters.
During a regular class period of the orientation course, we asked the participants to reflect upon their prim college experiences as they answered two open-ended questions A closed-ended question is a form of question, which normally can be answered with a simple "yes/no" dichotomous question, a specific simple piece of information, or a selection from multiple choices (multiple-choice question), if one excludes such non-answer responses as dodging a :
* What was keeping you from achieving your academic goals prior to now?
* Why are you in college now?
In addition, we asked them to provide their academic history, including name of institution and dates of attendance. All responses were in writing, and we followed our university's standards tot informed consent.
Tenacious persisters (students who had attended more than one institution of higher education and had stopped out for at least one semester after initial postsecondary enrollment) were selected as participants in the study. We removed from our analysis eleven students (15 percent) who did not meet these criteria. For the remaining 63 students we reviewer re·view·er
One who reviews, especially one who writes critical reviews, as for a newspaper or magazine.
a person who writes reviews of books, films, etc.
Noun 1. their responses to identify emergent emergent /emer·gent/ (e-mer´jent)
1. coming out from a cavity or other part.
2. pertaining to an emergency.
1. coming out from a cavity or other part.
2. coming on suddenly. themes. Our thematic the·mat·ic
1. Of, relating to, or being a theme: a scene of thematic importance.
2. analysis included the following steps:
* Reading and rereading responses and organizing data into short phrases or sentences
* Categorizing these data according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. similar elements
* Sorting and resorting elements to form broader dimensions
* Comparing and discussing the elements and dimensions for each research question
* Production of the final classification system.
While the participants in our study were all classified as first-semester students at a two-year college, their academic backgrounds were diverse. Of the 63 students in our analysis:
* 11 percent had already obtained a bachelor degree
* 37 percent had attended three or more institutions during their academic career
* 44 percent had been away from college for at least two years prior to their current enrollment
* 62 percent first enrolled in postsecondary education five or more years ago
* 70 percent had attended at least one four-year institution
* 73 percent had already attempted at least four semesters of postsecondary work
Based upon the results of a thematic analysis, we classified the students' written responses to our first question into one of five dimensions which emerged from the data: 1) negative academic experiences, 2) perceived lack of academic skills, 3) a lack of purpose and direction, 4) family factors, and 5) financial issues. Similarly for the second question, we classified their responses into one of three dimensions: 1) a new sense of self-awareness self-awareness
Realization of oneself as an individual entity or personality. , 2) career and financial issues, and 3) family factors. An examination of these results is provided in the following sections.
What was keeping you from achieving your academic goals prior to now?
Negative academic experiences
Several students stated that they "felt lost in the crowd" and "overwhelmed o·ver·whelm
tr.v. o·ver·whelmed, o·ver·whelm·ing, o·ver·whelms
1. To surge over and submerge; engulf: waves overwhelming the rocky shoreline.
a. " at previous large universities. One student felt that "at my previous institution, teachers and advisors didn't care about students". Some students reported their college choice did not fit their academic or career interests, or stopped out of school due to choosing "a major which didn't fit."
Perceived lack of academic skills
Many students described being told they "didn't have what it takes," to be successful college students. One student stated that she had been "thinking of herself as a failure" because of multiple past attempts at enrollment. Students felt they "never learned how to study," "relied too much on friends' notes" or "never took time to get help outside of class." Some students experienced extreme test anxiety, had problems with procrastination, and lacked necessary organizational skills.
Lack of purpose and direction
Students reported that during prior enrollments, they "did not take academics seriously." Others "looked at school as a social setting rather than a learning environment." One student wrote that "not realizing that academics can be fun" contributed to stopping out during prior college attempts. A student athlete who had attended multiple institutions wrote: "Sports didn't give me a chance to set any real goals. Grades were given to me. It finally caught up with me."
Family influences were a major reason for stopping out of college. Several students reported stopping out due to a difficult pregnancy or childbirth childbirth: see birth.
Childlessness (See BARRENNESS.)
(Rom. Diana) goddess of childbirth. [Gk. Myth. . Others left because of family responsibilities: "I have been raising an autistic autistic /au·tis·tic/ (aw-tis´tik) characterized by or pertaining to autism. son alone since 1989. I did what I thought was necessary to keep my children happy." Several students reported that their significant others and families were strongly opposed to their pursuit of academic goals: "My husband wanted a housewife, and I wanted a career." Other students described a lack of emotional support as a significant factor in stopping out: "My abusive Tending to deceive; practicing abuse; prone to ill-treat by coarse, insulting words or harmful acts. Using ill treatment; injurious, improper, hurtful, offensive, reproachful. ex-husband lowered my self esteem."
Money was also a major concern for the students. Students often said that multiple jobs and long, inflexible hours at work interfered with going to school. For many of these students, having "enough time to pay the bills, rent, and car note" left little opportunity for school obligations. One student reported waiting until she had "greater job flexibility and tuition For tuition fees in the United Kingdom, see .
Tuition means instruction, teaching or a fee charged for educational instruction especially at a formal institution of learning or by a private tutor usually in the form of one-to-one tuition. reimbursement Reimbursement
Payment made to someone for out-of-pocket expenses has incurred. " to return to school.
Why are you in college now?
New sense of self awareness
Based upon their experiences, several students returned to college because they believe that a college degree will provide them with a sense of independence, so they "won't have to depend on anyone or anything." Other participants stated that they had returned to school at this time due to a re-evaluation of their goals and plans: "I dropped out 15 years ago, but I am now older and wiser and know what I want."
Students viewed themselves as better able to cope with the demands of college because they knew what to expect. "Its time for me to get my life straight. I took some time off to find direction. I've learned a lot from the mistakes I made in the past." Some felt that balancing work, spirituality, and family helped them "realize what is important." Returning to college, they exhibited a sense of purpose: "I feel like I am somebody when I am in college ... school keeps the life inside me alive"; "Something is missing from my job--I want more meaning in my life."
Career and financial issues
Students desired to return to college as a way to prepare for a better future through career advancement. They felt strongly about finding careers so that they would not be "stuck in minimum wage jobs"; "I want job security, more freedom, time to have a career, not just a job."
Students also desired financial security and the ability to earn more money. One student reported being in school due to "finances--money means freedom and without money we are all slaves." Two students described financial opportunities including state tuition reimbursement and vocational rehabilitation Noun 1. vocational rehabilitation - providing training in a specific trade with the aim of gaining employment
rehabilitation - the restoration of someone to a useful place in society as facilitating their return to college at the present time.
A final dimension drawn from student reflections was the influence of family. Several students commented upon commitments made to family members as a reason for returning to school: "My parents didn't go to college, and I want to do this for them." Other students described their family circumstances CIRCUMSTANCES, evidence. The particulars which accompany a fact.
2. The facts proved are either possible or impossible, ordinary and probable, or extraordinary and improbable, recent or ancient; they may have happened near us, or afar off; they are public or as presenting an opportunity to return to school at the present time: "I've been married for 5 years, have a 3-year old daughter and 10 month old son- I've got the most important things done and now its time for the rest of my life to start." Some students commented that being divorced provided them with the motivation to return: "After my divorce-I have changed now, it made me grow up and mature in a way I never thought I could. It helped me to focus on a new life."
Of the many participants with dependents, most described their children as being the reason they returned to school. Instead of an obstacle, children became a constant reminder of the need to persist toward their academic goal. "At age 18 I was an undecided major, wasn't mature enough. At age 24 I had a boy, and I am in school now for my little boy's well-being." Many students wrote about returning to college to serve as role models for their children so they would recognize the value of higher education. "Because I went back to school, my sons will see the need for an education and the difficulty of delay in education." "I am in school now because I want my daughter to be a strong and independent we man who looks up to me and appreciates what I've done."
The reasons students stopped out of college in the past were not surprising and certainly fit with existing models of student persistence (Horn & Carroll, 1998; Tinto, 1993). It is noteworthy, however, that the reasons students gave for why they were in college now were so similar to why they stopped out of college in the first place. The findings of this study suggest that the students believed they had learned from past academic experiences and had transformed former obstacles into strengths. Prior stressors - divorce, children, finances, negative academic experiences, lack of direction - were now viewed as motivating forces, urging students on towards degree completion.
By standard definitions, these students remain at-risk of leaving college yet again. As Quinnan (1997) suggests, however, this "at-risk" label reflects certain assumptions we make about how students ought to attend higher education. Most students do not stay on the traditional persistence track, whereby a student graduates from high school, immediately enters college, end stays enrolled full-time until graduation four years later (Adelman, 1999; Carroll, 1989; Levine & Cureton, 1998). Instead of thinking of these students as an at-risk population, therefore, perhaps it would be more profitable to consider them to be tenacious persisters and think of their attendance patterns as expected, not exceptional. If faculty and other professionals in higher education can recognize tenacity as a distinguishing characteristic Noun 1. distinguishing characteristic - an odd or unusual characteristic
distinctive feature, peculiarity
characteristic, feature - a prominent attribute or aspect of something; "the map showed roads and other features"; "generosity is one of his best of nontraditional enrollment patterns, they can validate To prove something to be sound or logical. Also to certify conformance to a standard. Contrast with "verify," which means to prove something to be correct.
For example, data entry validity checking determines whether the data make sense (numbers fall within a range, numeric data adult learners' tenacity in persisting per·sist
intr.v. per·sist·ed, per·sist·ing, per·sists
1. To be obstinately repetitious, insistent, or tenacious.
2. towards their academic goals.
This research also has implications for how persistence is studied. Tenacious persisters, as we have defined them, are not well-represented in the literature on student persistence. Follow-up surveys miss them because they happen not to be enrolled that semester, or have switched institutions and cannot be followed. In fact, few of the students in this study would have been classified as having persisted given typical strategies for measuring student enrollment patterns. Yet from their unique perspectives, these students view themselves as persisters. Future research should recognize tenacious persisters as a significant population in colleges and universities, and should acknowledge the importance of student perspectives in studies of postsecondary persistence.
Adelman, C. (1999) Answers in the Toolbox See toolkit and toolbar. : Academic Intensity, Attendance patterns, and Bachelor's Degree Attainment. Washington DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Carroll, C. D. (1989). College persistence and degree attainment for 1980 high school graduates: Hazards for transfers, stopouts, and part-timers. (NCES NCES National Center for Education Statistics
NCES Net-Centric Enterprise Services (US DoD)
NCES Network Centric Enterprise Services
NCES Net Condition Event Systems 1989-302). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Horn, L. J. and Carroll, C. D. (1998). Stopouts or Stayouts? Undergraduates Who Leave College in Their First Year. (NCES 1999-087). Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Levine, A. and Cureton, J. (1998). When Hope and Fear Collide: A Portrait of Today's Student. San Francisco San Francisco (săn frănsĭs`kō), city (1990 pop. 723,959), coextensive with San Francisco co., W Calif., on the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, which are connected by the strait known as the Golden : Jossey Bass.
National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. (2000). Measuring Up 2000: The State-by-State Report Card for Higher Education. Washington DC: Author.
Pascarella, E. T., and Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How College Affects Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Quinnan, T. W. (1997). Adult Students "At-Risk".' Culture Bias in Higher Education. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.
St. John, E. P., Hu, S., Simmons, A. B., and Musoba, G. D. (2001). Aptitude Vs. Merit: What Matters in Persistence. Review of Higher Education, 24(2). 131-152.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition Attrition
The reduction in staff and employees in a company through normal means, such as retirement and resignation. This is natural in any business and industry.
Notes: . Chicago: University of Chicago Press The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including .
Laura Hensley is an Assistant Professor in Counselor Education in the Department of Educational Leadership, Research, and Counseling. She received her Ed.D. from the College of William and Mary Noun 1. William and Mary - joint monarchs of England; William III and Mary II in 1997. Kevin Kinser is an Assistant Professor in Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership, Research, and Counseling. He received his Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University Teachers College, Columbia University (sometimes referred to simply as Teachers College; also referred to as Teachers College of Columbia University or the Columbia University Graduate School of Education in 1999.