College to Encore Career: Baby Boomer and Gen X Undergraduate Women's Perceived Challenges and Barriers While Moving In and Through a Select 4-Yr University



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Demographics on university campuses have become increasingly diverse with a significant increase in the number of students ages 50 and older. Many arrive on campus with two or more years of college experience over several terms but with no degree. Higher education leaders' understanding of why these older adults enroll in postsecondary courses and the barriers and challenges they face is critical to successfully recruiting, retaining, and meeting the educational needs of this population.

The purpose of this qualitative study was two-fold. The first purpose was to conduct a phenomenological study of adult women, ages 50-64 and above, who were pursuing an undergraduate degree at the selected 4-year public university to gain an understanding of why they chose to begin or return to college and how they described their lived experiences and the challenges and barriers they faced. A second purpose of this study was to examine the congruence between Schlossberg's Transition Theory and the experiences of these Boomer and Gen X women moving in and through college.

Ten women were selected through criterion sampling to participate in this study. The average age of the women was 57 year old with the ages ranging from 53 to 65 year old. Seven of the women were from the Baby Boomer Generation (ages 56 and older) and three women were from Generation X (ages 50-55). Study participants responded to open-ended questions in a semi-structured interview and provided additional information through the completion of a background and demographic questionnaire. Data gathered from the transcripts of the interviews and from the background and demographic questionnaire was analyzed and then triangulated with literature information to create themes. Seven themes emerged from the study of the lived experiences of the Baby Boomer and Gen X women undergraduates: Motivation to return to college to pursue an undergraduate degree, support systems, initial expectations and concerns, challenges encountered as an older adult college student, campus relationships, older students' needs, and a meaningful college experience. Specific findings in this study regarding older students' needs have implications for practice and further research.



Postsecondary education, Lifelong learning, Older returning adult students, Transition, Encore careers, Bridge jobs, Retirement, Gen X, Baby Boomers, Schlossberg's Transition Theory