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A study of factors that contribute to adult undergraduate student success at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Elizabeth Yobst Brinkerhoff, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Research in the area of undergraduate college student retention has shown that faculty-student interaction contributes significantly to traditional age student retention. The scant research that exists on the effect of faculty-student interaction on the retention of adult students (age 25 and older) is ambiguous. This study investigated factors that contribute to adult undergraduate student success, especially the role that faculty-student interaction plays in adult undergraduate retention at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Quantitative and qualitative research methods were used. A survey was sent to 339 adult undergraduate students who were within 12 credits of graduation, and 138 responses were received. Of those, eight students were interviewed. A basic research approach was utilized in this study, with the theoretical base being that of phenomenology. The study explored in more general ways the larger number of students surveyed and more in-depth the individual experiences of the smaller number of students who were interviewed. Two themes emerged from the data as factors which most contributed to adult undergraduate success: commitment to the goal and support from others. Commitment was linked to two distinct reward sets, internal rewards and external rewards. Support from others came from individuals and groups both inside and outside of the university community. Faculty-student interaction was found to be both a support and, in some cases, an obstacle to adult student success. There was also evidence of a sense of certainty or confidence of degree completion on the part of the students studied.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Higher education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Brinkerhoff, Elizabeth Yobst, "A study of factors that contribute to adult undergraduate student success at the University of Massachusetts Amherst" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978479.