Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Education

Major

Adult & Higher Education

Date of Defense

8-1-2011

Graduate Advisor

E. Paulette Isaac-Savage, EdD

Committee

Lynn Beckwith, Jr.

Han, Pi-Chi

Haywood, Kathleen M.

Kasworm, Carol E.

Abstract

This study explored how college experiences, as perceived by adult students, influenced their decisions on persistence. Specifically, the role students’ perceptions of their college experiences played in their decisions to persist in college or voluntarily depart without completing a degree was examined. A grounded theory approach was used involving 26 current, completed, and non-completed students between 40 and 65 years of age. Of these 26 students, 23 had returned to college to obtain masters or doctoral degrees, two had recently obtained their bachelors degree and were now seeking graduate certificates, and one was completing her bachelors degree after a 39 year absence from college. These students were interviewed regarding their college experiences within five main areas: Business Processes, Support Services, Student/Advisor Interactions, Classroom Environment, and Feelings of Fit. Within these areas, four categories of phenomena regarding students’ college experiences were identified as most influential in their decisions regarding persistence: Importance of Relationships, Assessment of Value, Feelings of Fit, and Challenges Encountered. Student’s Expectations was the central category that brought the others together and served as the building blocks for theory, as an explanation regarding the phenomenon. The resulting theory, Adult students’ expectations of their college experiences influence their perceptions and assessment of the actual experiences, thereby influencing their decisions to persist in or depart college, responds to this study’s research questions. Regarding the five main areas of college experiences, analysis showed that interaction with advisors and instructors was critically important to students, and that classes students considered intellectually challenging were also considered the most valuable. While analysis also showed that business processes and support services mattered to students, their significance was minor in comparison to the other areas. Students’ overall feelings of fit were related across the spectrum of college experiences to the level of harmony or discord between their expectations and their perceptions of the experiences. Based on the findings, it appears that college experiences, as perceived by adult students, can influence their decisions on persistence. It is recommended that colleges promote open discussion of students’ expectations to reduce discord between expectations and perceptions of experiences.

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