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Graduate education: Needs, accommodations, and levels of service for adult students

Thomas John Skouras, Johnson & Wales University


The majority of published research that relates to the needs of adult students and the accommodations provided for them by higher education institutions focuses on undergraduate students, despite the predominance of an older, nontraditional campus population. Limited research is available (Saltiel, 1995, Mancuso, 1997, Powell, 1997) to assist higher education institutions in determining if different groups of adult graduate students have markedly differing needs, the degree to which these institutions are responding to those differing support needs, or the relationship of an institution's services for adult graduate students to its retention and attrition rates. The purpose of this study was to determine: (1) what differences exist among full-time adult graduate students with respect to needs, accommodations, and levels of service; (2) to what extent and manner institutions of higher learning are meeting the needs of full-time adult graduate students; and (3) to what extent do needs, accommodations, and levels of service contribute to the retention and persistence of the adult learner towards a graduate degree. Collection of data, utilizing a content analysis method, involved the following stages: (1) A focus group and a pilot study consisting of currently enrolled adult graduate students were conducted. (2) In-person semi-structured, open-ended interviews were scheduled with a key informant at five selected higher education institutions. (3) Gathering institutional documents from the sample programs through on-site visits and website exploration. Principal findings indicated that adult graduate students did not need or use all available support services, and they expressed widely-varying levels of satisfaction with them. In contrast to the perceptions of key informants, students also had a less positive view of how well their institutions were meeting their support needs. Two institutional barriers cited by a significant share of student respondents were the lack of nonreimbursable financial support and teaching styles that were less appropriate for adult learners. Key informants were uncertain as to how the presence or absence of support services contributed to graduate retention and attrition. The assumption behind this study was that a model could be produced that would serve as a foundation for best practice research.

Subject Area

School administration|Academic guidance counseling|Adult education|Continuing education

Recommended Citation

Skouras, Thomas John, "Graduate education: Needs, accommodations, and levels of service for adult students" (2001). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3017532.