Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Larry H. Ebbers
Several national trends are converging to impact adult education today. First, the increasing presence of adults in higher education is accentuated by the expansive Baby Boom generation who are demanding greater access to the higher education system in the United States. Second, regarding workforce and economic development in the 21st century, employers in many industries are experiencing a workforce shortage in both numbers and skill levels of employees (Schultz, 2001; Stein, 2000). Even though four out of five Baby Boomers desire to continue working beyond typical retirement age, many will require upgraded skills and credentials (Freedman, 2005b). A third significant trend impacting adult education is longer life expectancy--age 77 today compared to age 47 in 1900 (Zeiss, 2006). The resulting longer life after traditional retirement age has encouraged older adults to participate in activities that involve new experiences, contributions to society, and learning.
We need a deeper understanding of how adult learners--particularly those who are at or near traditional retirement age--access institutions of higher education, experience successful learning in their higher education endeavors, and plan to utilize their college education in their remaining work-lives. The purpose of this phenomenological study is to explore the experiences of degree-seeking, adult learners--specifically, nine Older Baby Boomers (OBB) born between 1946 and 1958 and enrolled in a Midwestern university--to understand how psychosocial, cognitive, and spiritual dimensions of adult development influenced both their transformative learning experiences in higher education and their future vocational aspirations.
Persistent patterns of findings emerged from the data, including, but not limited to, the following: adult learner characteristics and reasons for enrollment; higher education support needs; adult transformative learning; self-identified cognitive, psychosocial, and spiritual development; vocational concerns of meaning, purpose, and service; and spiritual influences on future aspirations. These findings reveal the essence of the phenomenon of older adults pursuing higher education degrees, as perceived by these OBB participants, to be a self-identified transformative process resulting in improved learner self-efficacy, and acquired within a supportive, adult-friendly higher education environment which enabled students to successfully transition not only toward degree completion and ensuing career enhancements, but toward meaningful vocational aspirations grounded in personal spiritual beliefs.
This complex statement engenders numerous possibilities to explore in the alternate dissertation format which includes three chapters of findings submitted to scholarly journals for publication. Each journal article centers on an overarching research question relevant to the original proposed study and is framed within one portion of Nancy Schlossberg's transition model--moving in, moving through, and moving out from college. The first article addresses the student experience of OBB transitioning back into college. The second article examines the learning experience (and consequential transformation) of OBB students as they move through college. The third article explores OBB students' future aspirations beyond college, including the impact of spirituality on their vocational and retirement plans.
Higher education must respond to adult learners' support needs, learning preferences, and vocational tendencies toward service-related encore careers. By helping older adult students prepare for careers about people, purpose, and community, "colleges will capture a new population of students to serve, will help millions of people find greater significance and purpose in life, and will help sustain America's strong economy" (Zeiss, 2006, p. 40).
Jane L Schaefer
Schaefer, Jane L., "Older Baby Boomers seeking collegiate degrees: Developmental influences on educational and vocational aspirations" (2009). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 10591.