ERIC Identifier: ED360946
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Conrad, Judi
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher
Education Washington DC.| George Washington Univ. Washington DC.
School of Education and Human Development.
Educating Part-Time Adult Learners in Transition. ERIC Digest.
By the year 2000, every adult American...will possess the knowledge and
skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and
responsibilities of citizenship. (Goal Five of the National Education Goals)
WHO ARE THE ADULT LEARNERS IN TRANSITION?
A seminal work by
K. Patricia Cross (Adults as Learners: Increasing Participation and Facilitating
Learning, 1991) remains central to any discussion of adult learners today. Cross
presents two models: Characteristics of Adults as Learners (CAL) and
Chain-of-Response (COR) which describe the way in which educators have come to
view and service the adult learner. Citing demographics, social change, and
technology as three factors that will influence the demand for adult education
programs, Cross asserts that "It would be difficult to think of some way to live
in a society changing as rapidly as ours without constantly learning new things" (Cross, 1981).
The impact of a rapidly changing society is reflected in the growing number
of adults engaged in a formal part-time course of study at an institution of
higher education. Statistically, adult learners, those 25 years of age or older,
constitute over one half of all students enrolled in higher education courses
(National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), (1992). For the most part,
these adult learners are in a state of transition seeking to improve their
situation through education. They encompass a broad spectrum including growing
numbers of women, displaced homemakers, career changers, immigrants, second
career retirees, single family parents, and individuals seeking professional
The commitment to self improvement suggests a whole different set of
aspirations and expectations than those found in the younger full-time student.
At the same time, the anxieties and pressures of the older part-time student may
far exceed those of the traditional student. The nature of both their needs and
demands has major implications for institutions of higher education. NCES
projects for 1991 (over the 1988 estimates) a total increase of 13.31 percent
for fulltime students aged 25 years and over and a 10.31 increase for part-time
adult students. This means that 71.77 percent of all students enrolled in all
institutions of higher education were estimated to be part-time in 1991. For
1998, NCES projects 71.55 percent part-time adult student enrollment and 71.62
percent for 2003. Such projections suggest important policy, curriculum,
financial, and administrative implications for postsecondary education
WHAT ARE THE SPECIAL NEEDS OF THE PART-TIME ADULT LEARNER IN
Given the diversity of part-time adult learners, there are many
more considerations our institutions need to address. A general principle might
be to provide maximum services that are easily accessible.
Academic counseling, for example, should be readily available so that the
particular goals of the adult learner are established at the beginning of the
course of study so that each course taken builds upon those goals. Academic
support services are vital to students unsure of their ability to succeed. Among
the more interesting approaches to academic support services are programs that
provide peer mentoring, mentoring, and encourage active and cooperative
learning, although the traditional programs that support specific skill
development are also valuable.
There is evidence that the ease with which an adult learner can complete the
admissions and registration process is related to successful recruitment and
retention (The College Board, 1990). Moreover, the convenience of classroom
location and course schedules are important considerations for part-time adult
learners, since they inevitably have other obligations (e.g., job or family) and
limited time. It is important that institutions of higher education recognize
and support cocurricular activities that enhance the social and cultural
integration of the part-time adult learner. Research indicates correlation
between social and cultural comfort, student retention rates, and academic
achievement (See Caracelli, 1988 for a model that looks at the relationship
between "identity status stability" and student retention among a cohort of 70
WHAT SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE TO THE ADULT LEARNER IN
The list of services profiled in 100 Ways Colleges Serve Adults
(The College Board, 1990) is indicative of the many ways in which colleges serve
adult learners. This readable book presents examples of successful college
programs in the following service areas: academic counseling; academic support
services; admissions; advertising and marketing; cocurricular activities;
community relations; convenient location/scheduling; curriculum; publications;
recruiting; registration; and services. The extent of this list suggests the
bureaucratic maze that must be negotiated if the student is to benefit from all
services offered. Delight E. Champagne (Planning Development Interventions for
Adult Students, 1987) asserts that because the student affairs office cuts
across all other campus services, it should assume primary responsibility for
coordinating and promoting campus services suitable for the adult student.
Champagne presents a student affairs intervention model based on eight
functional areas: specialized services; advocacy; referral; networking and
mentoring; education (e.g., life skills training); clearinghouse that links
students to campus services and resources; program planning (workshops and
support groups); and counseling (individual, group, and peer group).
HOW SHOULD THE CURRICULUM DIFFER FOR THE PART-TIME ADULT
A major difference between curricula for the part-time adult
student and the traditional student results from the fact that the former, by
and large, are voluntary students with specific learning objectives in mind. If
their objectives are to be met, it is important that those objectives be
identified and that adult students be consulted in the development of their own
curricula. Active, problem-solving, goal-oriented, and cooperative learning are
among the more successful teaching strategies (Cavaliere and Sgroi, 1992). The
adult learner is generally less tolerant of the more passive lecture format and
eager to take responsibility for learning. See Baron and Rusnak, 1990 for
description of an alternative teacher certification program designed to
encourage and nurture math, science, and engineering professionals willing to
WHICH DISCIPLINES ARE TARGETING ADULT LEARNERS IN
A search of the ERIC database suggests that teacher education
programs have made a concerted effort to target adult learners in transition
(Powell, 1992; Faulkner, 1992; Baron, 1990; Hensel, 1991; Ryan and Spangler,
1991; Madfes, 1991; Madfes, 1989; Shotel, 1987); however, there is little
evidence that other disciplines are paying particular attention to the special
needs of the adult learner. Julie L. Nicklin (Chronicle of Higher Education,
1991) reports that the greatest growth in continuing education is in the areas
of computer training, human resource management, and quality control.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES?
the projections for increases in the numbers of transitional adult learners are
at all accurate, institutions of higher education should benefit from targeting
programs to this population. "Restructuring Teacher Education for Career
Switchers" (Ryan and Spangler, 1991) offers a good example of such a targeted
program. This is a master's degree program at Otterbein College designed to
provide an alternative route to teacher certification for career changers. With
the exception of the full-time, 16-week teaching internship, the format at
Otterbein is a part-time program specifically designed to accommodate the
working adult. It offers a liberal arts theme as the curriculum focus and
matches course content with field and clinical experiences.
Virtually all 3,000 postsecondary academic institutions and the more than
8,000 proprietary schools already include some kind of short courses for adults
(Hunt, Ed., 1992). There is a substantial body of research on lifelong and
continuing education which encompasses everything from adult learner
motivational theory to adult learning environments, including the more narrow
field of professional continuing education. There are hundreds of thousands of
private sector and not-for-profit institutions and organizations that provide
educational opportunities of varying quality and duration for the adult learner.
Institutions of higher education are increasingly challenged by this competition
and they are well advised to look to the body of research on adult learners and
that relating to campus services if they are to remain competitive. But, the
dearth of information on discipline-specific adult learner programs suggests
that institutions of higher education need to consider discipline specific
recruitment programs for adult learners in transition.
Tapping into the research and experience of life-long learning and continuing
education seems to be a reasonable approach. Educating "every adult American to
possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in the global economy and
exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship" (National Education
Goals) is a tall order, requiring major changes in postsecondary education.
Specifically, institutions of higher education need to address policy issues
associated with changes in the following areas: curricula; faculty development
programs; administrative procedures; and counseling and support services that
meet the needs of the adult learner in transition.
100 Ways Colleges Serve Adults. 1990. New York,
NY: The College Board. Office of Adult Learning Services.
Baron, Eleanor, and Timothy Rusnak. Math and Science Professionals are
Becoming Teachers: The Duquesne Model. Summer Workshop of the Association of
Teacher Educators (Towson, MD, August 5-8, 1990). ED 341 644
Caracelli, Valerie J. Reentry Women Students: Identity Status Stability and
Change During an "Off-time" Transition. Biennial Meeting of the Society for
Research on Adolescence (2nd, Alexandria, VA, March 25-27, 1988). ED 296 260
Champagne, Delight E. Planning Developmental Interventions for Adult
Students. Annual Meeting of the American College Personnel Association/National
Association of Student Personnel Administrators (Chicago, IL, March 15-18,
1987). ED 279 916
Cross, K. Patricia. 1981. Adults as Learners: Increasing Participation and
Facilitating Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
Hunt, E. Stephen, (ed.), 1992. Professional Workers as Learners: The Scope,
Problems, and Accountability of Continuing Professional Education in the 1990s.
Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement. U.S. Department
Madfes, Tania J. Second Careers--Second Challenges: Meeting the Needs of the
Older Teacher Education Student. Annual Meeting of the California Educational
Research Association (1989). ED 318 713
Quigley, B. Allan, (ed.) 1989. Fulfilling the Promise of Adult and Continuing
Education. New Directions for Continuing Education, no. 44. San Francisco, CA:
Ryan, Patricia M. and Shirley Spangler. 1991. Restructuring Teacher Education
for Career Switches. Westerville, Ohio: Otterbein College. ED 334 166