ERIC Identifier: ED299455
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Strategies for Retaining Adult Students: The Educationally
Disadvantaged. ERIC Digest No. 76.
Retention of adult students is a persistent and perplexing problem for
providers of adult education. Participation and nonparticipation are popular
subjects in the literature, as researchers attempt to identify characteristics
and motivations of adult students and the causes of dropping out. One problem
centers around the definition of retention and the value placed on it. Defining
retention in terms of program completion is relevant only for some students. For
others, retention is successful if students achieve their objectives for
participating. Some argue that retention and attrition are neither good nor bad,
but that the achievement of the students' goals should be the measure of program
success (Holm 1988).
Although retention is a concern in all types of adult programs, this ERIC
Digest focuses on strategies for educationally disadvantaged adults. Updating
Fact Sheet No. 12 (Beaudin n.d.), this Digest looks at causes of
nonparticipation, lists general and specific strategies for improving
recruitment and retention, and gives examples of successful program models. For
more information on adult characteristics, motivations, and barriers to
participation, see Brookfield (1986) and Scanlan (1986).
WHY DON'T THEY PARTICIPATE?
The literature on retention of
adult learners strongly suggests that previous educational attainment is closely
tied to participation and persistence. Educationally disadvantaged adults are
more likely to lack self-confidence and self-esteem, have negative attitudes
toward education, and need mastery of basic skills such as literacy before
attaining job skills that could improve their economic circumstances.
Recent research by Hayes (1988) confirms several propositions about this
population: (1) educationally disadvantaged adults typically experience a
combination of barriers that cause them to drop out; (2) perception of these
barriers varies according to such characteristics as age, sex, and educational
level; and (3) even among groups with similar background characteristics, great
differences exist in motivation and deterrence factors.
Hayes classified six groups of low-literate adults based on their scores on
five deterrence factors: low self-confidence, social disapproval, situational
barriers, negative attitude toward education, and low personal priority. Most
groups had relatively high scores on more than one factor. This new typology
suggests that the most effective recruitment and retention strategy may be to
tailor individual programs to the needs of specific groups.
GENERAL RETENTION STRATEGIES
Wlodkowski (1985) provides 68
strategies and examples of learning activities or instructional behavior to
carry them out. The following suggestions synthesize the advice of a number of
writers and apply to all types of programs: o Do not seek 100 percent retention.
There are different types of attrition; identify which are harmful to the
vitality of the program and to student objectives. o Begin retention efforts
with recruitment; devote as much energy to retention as to recruitment. o Target
recruiting at those whom the program is best equipped to serve. o Emphasize
placement, orientation, counseling, and advising early in the program. o Follow
up inactive students with phone calls; have an ongoing process for identifying
and tracking these students.
SPECIFIC STRATEGIES FOR SPECIFIC NEEDS
Strategies in this
section are grouped by deterrence factors.
o Make special efforts in the first few weeks to orient students and get them
to feel their goals are reachable--first by helping them have realistic goals
and expectations. o Provide comprehensive orientation that includes assessment
of ability, self-esteem, learning style, motivations, and values. o Offer
support services such as peer counseling and mentoring.
o Emphasize the social aspects (making new friends; warm, friendly
atmosphere; informal settings). o Involve community organizations. Advertise in
laundromats, churches, area stores. Use word-of-mouth and door-to-door
recruiting, with information coming from trusted sources. Distribute program
information as inserts in store purchases, paychecks, or telephone bills, or
flyers sent home with schoolchildren. o Increase the visibility of the program
through community service projects. o Provide opportunities for the academic and
social integration of students.
o Offer programs in accessible neighborhood locations with flexible
scheduling to fit adult life-styles. o Arrange transportation (e.g., car pools)
and child care.
o Advertise success stories and use successful students to recruit and to
follow up on dropouts. o Emphasize the difference between adult basic education
and regular school.
LOW PERSONAL PRIORITY
o Focus on employment and employability skills, job survival, vocabulary and
reading related to daily work situations. o Emphasize daily living/family life
skills as a means of improving family relationships. o Give value for money in
terms of education, services, and facilities.
The Jefferson County Adult Reading
Program in Louisville, Kentucky, a National Dissemination Network validated
program, has had a 79 percent retention rate using its four-phase model: (1)
recruitment, (2) staff training, (3) instructional design, and (4) evaluation
(Darling, Puckett, and Paull 1983). Recruitment involves volunteers, the support
of community organizations, and use of electronic media such as public service
announcements on local radio and television. (Radio campaigns have had 48
percent effectiveness.) Staff are trained using a slide-tape emphasizing
psychology of adult learners, counseling techniques, group dynamics, and peer
motivation. Instructional materials are individualized, and weekly and midyear
project reviews provide feedback for modifying the program.
To increase student retention in adult basic education (ABE) in Arizona, the
Express Press, a microcomputer-produced newspaper written by students and
instructors, is distributed statewide. A "little magazine" that serves as a
curriculum supplement, the Express Press gives students a medium of expression,
a sense of identity, and pride in their accomplishments, thus enhancing
self-confidence. Contents include health and safety tips, local news, best
seller synopses, sports, trivia, puzzles, and government information (Rio Salado
Community College 1985).
Kansas City, Missouri's Adult Education Dropout Project involves counselors,
principals, home school coordinators, and outside agencies in dropout
identification and referral, making ABE another link in a cooperative
educational chain. To alleviate situational barriers and overcome negative
attitudes toward previous schooling, telephone calls to prospective students
emphasize setting one's own schedule, classes in the neighborhood,
individualized instruction, and General Educational Development (GED) Test
preparation. During the first year, 75 percent of students referred to the
program enrolled in ABE classes (Martin 1987).
Greenville Technical College (South Carolina) makes its community a learning
center by bringing basic skills instruction to such sites as hospitals,
correctional facilities, community centers, churches, and businesses through a
mobile classroom. The program attempts to create a social environment in which
education is perceived as important and barriers to participation are reduced.
Program features include: flexible time units; two vans as student management
and curriculum facilities; teams of instructors and volunteers using audiovisual
equipment; basic skills linked to a particular degree or diploma program;
individualized, mastery-oriented instruction; cost based on contact hours;
student learning contracts; and positive reinforcement, including local business
incentives for employee participation (Baker 1983).
A set of behavioristic principles incorporated into classroom management
techniques decreased attrition in GED programs at South Dade Adult Education
Center (Florida) by 15 percent. Illustrating ways to combat social disapproval,
low self-confidence, and negative attitudes, the techniques included (1)
reinforcement through social facilitation (small group work with time for
socializing enhanced feelings of group solidarity in the learning situation),
(2) schedules of reinforcement (tests after every third class were immediately
graded and returned, providing regular, positive feedback), and (3) principles
of extinction (to reduce test anxiety, students were instructed in group and
individual breathing exercises before and during tests) (Pelzer 1986).
A common thread in much of the literature discussed here is the instructor as
a key factor in retention. Not only the instructor, but all staff should be
committed to and involved in recruitment and retention: administrators who set
clear program goals and objectives, provide staff development, and include staff
and students in decision making; support staff who are friendly, helpful,
knowledgeable, and respectful of adult students; and teachers who tailor
instruction to student needs, set the climate for learning, listen, allow open
discussion, and learn not to take attrition personally.
Baker, G. A., III. "Serving Undereducated
Adults: Community as Learning Center." NEW DIRECTIONS FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION
no. 20 (1983): 31-42. (ERIC No. EJ 289 213).
Beaudin, B. RETAINING ADULT STUDENTS. FACT SHEET NO. 12. Columbus: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, The National Center
for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, n.d. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 237 800).
Brookfield, S. D. UNDERSTANDING AND FACILITATING ADULT LEARNING. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1986.
Darling, S.; Puckett, D.; and Paull, S. ORGANIZING A SUCCESSFUL ADULT
LITERACY PROGRAM. Louisville, KY: Jefferson County Public Schools, 1983. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 235 320).
Hayes, E. R. "A Typology of Low-Literate Adults Based on Perceptions of
Deterrents to Participation in Adult Basic Education." ADULT EDUCATION QUARTERLY
39, no. 1 (Fall 1988): 1-10. (ERIC No. EJ 377 139).
Holm, S. M. "Retention of Adult Learners in an Individualized Baccalaureate
Degree Program." Master's thesis, University of Minnesota, 1988. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 298 250).
Martin, L. G. HIGH SCHOOL NONCOMPLETERS. INFORMATION SERIES NO. 316.
Columbus: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio
State University, 1987. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 284 064).
Pelzer, D. F. "Establishing the Relationship between Withdrawals and
Application of Behaviorist Principles in Adult Education Classes." 1986. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 276 898).
Rio Salado Community College. STATEWIDE STUDENT RETENTION PROJECT FOR THE
STATE OF ARIZONA. FINAL REPORT. Rio Salado, AZ: RSCC, 1985. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 260 287).
Scanlan, C. L. DETERRENTS TO PARTICIPATION: AN ADULT EDUCATION DILEMMA.
INFORMATION SERIES NO. 308. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and
Vocational Education, The National Center for Research in Vocational Education,
The Ohio State University, 1986. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 272
Wlodkowski, R. J. ENHANCING ADULT MOTIVATION TO LEARN. San Francisco: