Journal of College Student Development 45.1 (2004) 99-101
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Meeting the Special Needs of Adult Students. Deborah Kilgore and Penny J. Rice (Editors). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003, 98 pages, $23 (softcover)
As educators discuss the needs of college students, the first ideas almost exclusively address young adults. Considering the needs, for example, of differently abled students or gay students is important, yet typically these students are envisioned as "traditional-aged." Many new student affairs professionals and paraprofessionals experienced college as a traditional-aged student. This text, Meeting the Special Needs of Adult Students, helps refocus educators' attention on the growing population of adult learners.
Carol Kasworm, in the first chapter of this text, provides a compelling argument for why student affairs professionals should focus their attention on adult learners (typically defined as 25 years of age or older). Kasworm notes that over 6 million adult undergraduates and graduate students were enrolled in 2000 and represent one of the most rapidly growing segments of today's college student population. Kasworm provides a brief overview of the key motivators for adult learners and discusses the differences between adult undergraduates and young adult students. Much of the information is repeated in later chapters.
College is not the life-encompassing, identity-building experience for adult learners as we want it to be for traditional-aged students, notes Fairchild. Instead higher education is only one of the many activities in which adult students can participate to meet other specific needs, such as learning a new job-related skill or preparing for a new career (p. 12). In chapter 2, Multiple Roles of Adult Learners, Fairchild spends minimal time talking about the roles of adults, which were adequately addressed in chapter 1, and instead focuses on the challenges adults face because of their multiple roles. Fairchild states that family, job, finances, dissonance among roles, and systemic institutional barriers present challenges for adult learners.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 focus on specific functional tasks of student affairs, including recruitment, retention, financial support, and use of information technology for adult learners. Hadfield proposes that administrators focus their attention on recruiting and retaining the ever-growing population of adult students. She discusses the competing learning opportunities from which adults can choose. Higher education is no longer "the only game in town" (p. 18). Hadfield suggests higher education take a "customer satisfaction" approach with adult students, although she acknowledges that the customer terminology she uses will invite criticism. In chapter 4, Hatfield (not to be confused with Hadfield in chapter 3) expresses a concern that the financial aid system is insufficient to address the wide-ranging circumstances of an increasingly diverse student body. The historical background of financial aid was a useful addition, although the suggestions that followed were surprisingly unradical. Adult learner advocates have previously suggested similar recommendations (e.g., extended office hours for financial aid services). The text did not address originative strategies in the area [End Page 99] of financial aid, such as the innovative tuition approaches at the University of Oregon or University of Texas. These institutions charge different tuition rates for courses offered at unpopular times (late afternoons, Fridays, and weekends). These options could benefit adult learners who welcome evening and weekend classes, which are less attractive to young adult students.
Technology is becoming increasingly important to the effective delivery of student services. Lefor, Benke, and Ting address one institution's (Empire State College) approach to information technology and adult learners in chapter 5.
The editors note that the text is organized functionally, with the goal of speaking directly to practitioners engaged with adult learners (p. 1). Chapter 6, Adult Learners in the Classroom, targets the practitioner part of that goal. Ross-Gordon provides a useful overview of several key theories related to adult development and adult learning. The classroom based recommendations are a valuable contribution of the chapter and can be used by faculty as well as student affairs educators. They are easy to understand, supported by research and theory, and could serve as a basis for future...