Adult Women in Higher Education: The Perceived Influence of Families

Open Access
Plageman, Paula M.
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 03, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Dr Edward Taylor, Dissertation Advisor
  • Edward W Taylor, Committee Chair
  • Patricia Angelica Cranton, Committee Member
  • Chiara Sabina, Committee Member
  • Gina Brelsford, Committee Member
  • influence
  • family
  • postsecondary education
  • women
  • adult
  • persistence
The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the influence of both the family of origin and the current family on the adult female undergraduate student’s educational experience. The theoretical frameworks that informed this study are a combination of social constructionism and the life course theory. The focus of the study was the participant’s perceptions of how this influence was experienced in regard to bachelor degree pursuit and attainment. Of special interest was the examination of why these adult learners did not attend college as traditionally-aged students, what made them decide to attend currently, and how their attendance has been influenced by their family members. Data primarily consisted of transcripts of in-depth one-on-one interviews with 13 participants who are currently attending, or who recently graduated from college, within the past year, were female and at least 25 years old, and who have a current family in addition to their family of origin. Data were analyzed using manual thematic analysis. The study findings are grouped into four categories. First, issues associated with the family of origin negatively impacted college attendance for the vast majority of the participants. Second, despite a general lack of support for higher educational attainment from their families, the majority of the participants dreamed of going to college. Third, the current family significantly influenced the women’s educational experiences primarily due to the integration of their daily lives with their current family members. Last, the institution was found to in-directly influence the women’s educational experiences as it related to her family because the structure of the programming made attendance possible. The study ends with a discussion of the findings, implications for institutions who work with this student population, limitations of the study, ideas for future research, and some final reflections.