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Mature students in the persistence puzzle: an exploration of the factors that contribute to adult learners' quality of life and retention in post-secondary education

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(Thesis) Ed.D.
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Mature Students in the Persistence Puzzle explored new theoretical directions and methodological approaches for studying adult learners’ quality of life and retention in the first year of general arts and science programs in a university-college environment. The study was conducted to broaden and deepen our understanding of the multifaceted nature of mature students’ lives and those factors exerting important influences on mature students’ educational commitment and persistence. Because there are few studies that focus on adult learners’ post-secondary experiences and fewer still that incorporate detailed student perspectives, results will provide valuable information for informing institutional student retention policies and practices. An adult quality of life conceptual framework was used to explore the broad connections between health and learning, based on a synthesis of social ecology, health promotion, adult learning, and student development research. Mixed methods included a phenomenological hermeneutical-based approach for conducting in-depth interviews with first-year students aged 25-72 years. Phenomenological methods were also used to facilitate a faculty focus group to identify the teaching and learning strategies that support mature students’ educational commitment and persistence. The naturalistic inquiry findings were complemented by standard multiple regression analyses performed on the age-aggregated data of the 2005/06 Pan-Canadian Study of College Students and First Year Outcomes. In summary, eight main themes emerged from the qualitative data analysis focusing on: a) major life transitions; b) multifaceted educational goals; c) awareness of personal assets; d) relationships with professors; e) peer relationships; f) life-role conflicts; g) supportive institutional infrastructure; and h) experiential learning opportunities. Faculty members reinforced the importance of student-faculty relationships and experiential learning during the focus group. The multiple regression model contributed significantly to the prediction of intentions to persist or withdraw, educational commitment, confidence, and satisfaction. Overall, study findings revealed that goal orientation, perceived relevance of studies, student-faculty relationships, and financial concerns were the most influential contributors to mature students’ educational commitment and persistence. The implications for faculty, student-development staff, and educational leaders were discussed, along with practical strategies for creating and maintaining a health-promoting campus environment to optimize adult learners’ quality of life and retention.
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