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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Re-Framing Adult Student Success: Understanding and Identifying Successful Outcomes for Adult Students in Adult Education Programs
by Kirk, Chelsea, Ed.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2019, 208; 13859049
Abstract (Summary)

There are many consequences that surface as a result of not having a high school diploma, and the U.S. is facing a drop out crisis which is disproportionately affecting African America, Latino, and Native American students. As such, many students from under-represented backgrounds thus find themselves reenrolling in school through adult education programs. Adult students who have faced significant educational inequality in their lives pose a unique student profile in the education system, which leads us to question the very model and structures that exist.

Adult education programs are created to serve a need in the community and promote adult student success. Yet, what is success for adult students? In the traditional education system, success typically means graduation, college and career readiness, or even gifted and talented programs. These are all orientations of success that define and mold school structure, school systems, and school policies to generate student success. However, because of their relationship to the educational system from other times in their lives, adult education programs should not simply assume that their students share one of these traditional orientations towards success. Understanding what success means for adult students with a particular history with education is essential to preventing drop out in the present. Thus, it is critical to understand what adult students seek to achieve through reenrolling in an adult education program to inform school structure. Additionally, it is necessary to understand what the staff who supports adult students understands as success for this student group, to also help shape school structure that finds successful outcomes.

This exploratory, qualitative study provided the space for students and staff in an adult education program to have a voice and share their experiences, stories, and opinions around education and success orientations. Theories of social reproduction and deficit models were applied as a conceptual framework to examine how high school drop outs and adult students are perceived. Narrative inquiry and appreciative inquiry were drawn on to guide interviews and visual representation activities to gather qualitative data. The intent of this study was to provide a better understanding of the experience of adult students while also attempting to discover what success means for this student population that can help inform school structure to promote successful outcomes.

The study found that success is in fact different for adult students returning to a formal education program because they evaluate and find success in ways beyond that of traditional high school students. Therefore, success should be viewed through re-framed orientations as success feels and looks different for adult students. The unique experiences of adult students lead them to attach great emotion to success. In this study, adult students were able to find success in new and re-framed ways as the result of a foundational culture of safety and care at their school The culture of safety and care set the context for how the adult students oriented success. Two ori

entations of success emerged from the adult students in this study: success as fulfillment and success as validation. The faculty and staff that worked alongside the students in the study, also viewed success from new and unique orientations, which supported the need to re-frame how success is viewed for adult students. The faculty and staff played a unique role in the lives of their students. Additionally, the faculty and staff embraced a culture of varied outcomes that created the very culture of success in their school. In this study, the faculty and staff oriented success in two ways as well: success as self-growth and success as agency.Thus, by re-framing success, we can better understand what adult students seek when returning to a formal education program, which can inform school structure and policy for adult education programs. Additionally, by embracing new orientations of success, adult schools can work to engage, retain, empower, and further prepare their students while shifting the narrative of adult students. We know that adult students have not found success in the traditional ways in which success is defined. Therefore, if we want to serve adult students when they return to school, we must ensure we are not failing them through repeated systemic failure and creating a space that promotes their assets and values their experiences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Posecznick, Alex
Commitee: Gadsden, Vivian, Quinn, Rand
School: University of Pennsylvania
Department: Educational Leadership
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 80/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational leadership, Adult education
Keywords: Adult learners, Alternative education, Success metrics, Success orientation
Publication Number: 13859049
ISBN: 978-1-392-22702-2
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