Mature students in higher education: the career of a cohort of mature students in a public sector institution

Zeitlyn, Alice (1988) Mature students in higher education: the career of a cohort of mature students in a public sector institution. Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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An attempt has been made to chart the changes and development seen in the careers of a cohort of mature students over a period of three years. In earlier chapters it was shown that mature students were highly motivated and felt themselves to be deeply committed to the degree course. This continued to be an important factor that ensured that all but one mature students finished the course. The almost universal lack of confidence observed in this cohort at the beginning of the course may have been caused by the perception that mature students were going to be taking a role usually associated with much younger people and one which might appear to be inappropriate for an adult. Moreover,this new role would have to be learned and there seemed to be no guide lines to help. Most of these mature students had never met somebody of their own age embarking on such an undertaking; they had no "role-model" to follow. The question of role identity had not been forseen as a problem by those mature students starting a first degree course designed primarily for s/l, although many were apprehensive about their situation as adults in an activity which was largely associated with late adolescence - a period which they had already gone through. In order to cope with this problem the majority of mature students found it was necessary to keep the two roles they were playing separate - their mature student role at CCAT and the "adult" role in the home or away from CCAT. This separation was more marked in those who had family responsiblities who made up the majority in this cohort. The single students of both sexes were among the younger mature students and identified more easily with the s/l and the role of student. A certain embarrassment felt by some mature students at an apparent incongruity of being a middle-aged student was emphasised by the reactions of family and friends. Male students were made aware by outside social pressures that a drop in income was a considerable burden to bear. The worry of being able to keep up mortgage repayments, for example, was an ever-present strain. The hope of enhanced career opportunities at the end of the course helped to sustain them. The categorisation of respondents into those who were critical of the course, those who were enthusiastic about it and those who adapted to the demands made upon them, was developed. These groupings remained almost unchanged throughout the three years but the varying attitudes used did not seem to make any difference in how the mature students coped with the problems that they found. The critics hoped that some of their ideas for improving the course, which would help s/l too, might be put into practice. It was their initiative that led to some lecturers providing a "hand-out" to those who attend a lecture so that note-taking at the time is unnecessary. The enthusiasts kept up the level of their enthusiasm and the majority of theme hope to go onto further studies e.g. post-graduate teacher training or a higher degree. The adapters, who tended to be among those who were less conforming to the demands of tutors, found that the added confidence gained from the course enabled them to continue to study in the way that suited them best personally, and reinforced their own self-reliance in their ability to cope with the course. All mature students found it necessary to be well organised to be able to cope with the dual role of student and life outside the college, but felt that the effort was worth while for the benefits they received from the course. The great majority would advise prospective students to be aware of the time needed to get the most advantages and enjoyment out of the time spent as students at CCAT, but to go ahead if the opportunity presented itself. Those who had the support and encouragement of their families acknowledged the difference this made. Some said that it would have been impossible for them to have managed without it. The founding of the Mature Student Club could be seen as an effort on the part of mature students to reinforce the perception of themselves as separate and different from s/l. The mutual support and sharing of similar problems found within this organisation helped them to find an acceptable role within the student body. Staff also welcomed the presence of mature students for their evident commitment and high motivation. It was acknowledged that mature students helped to maintain a higher academic standard within the degree course because of their presence. The fears expressed by the Careers Officer at CCAT about the problems caused by lack of mobility for women when looking for work after the course had finished was not in evidence within the cohort itself. All eventually expected to build on the experience gained by being a degree student, although most were realistic in acknowledging that it might take longer than if they were geographically more mobile. The advantages of having survived a hard three years of work were thought to far outweigh the disadvantages of a diminished income and a complete absence of any spare time. The longitudinal approach of this research enabled a number of changes to be observed. Gradually, as they successfully negotiated the academic requirements of the course - the first year examinations, continuous assessment and essay assignments - confidence built up. By the time of the final examinations mature students felt that they knew what was expected of them and were able to rise to the necessary academic standard. The fact that only one student "dropped out" appeared to speak well for the admission procedures adopted by the staff at CCAT when dealing with mature students, i.e. they had chosen those that they perceived could "cope" with the academic and social demands of the course. Alternatively, it may suggest that most mature students successfully adapted to what, at first, may have been perceived as a personally challenging experience but which became, especially in the first year, a threatening, institutional environment. Familiarity with the institution and their fellow students helped to remove some of the apprehension that was initially felt and criticism of school leavers fell away. The majority reported an awareness of the benefits arising from the mix of ages and backgrounds found on the course and felt that they had a useful contribution to make.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Repository Admin
Date Deposited: 02 Oct 2012 12:15
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 16:19

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