Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Suzanne Kurth

Committee Members

Thomas. C. Hood, Donald W. Hastings, Kathy Davis


This study assesses the impact that an alternative delivery model in higher education may have for adult undergraduates who return to college. In trying to adapt their institutions to the needs of adult students, and reduce barriers facing them, some colleges and universities have developed degree-completion programs. In addition to offering convenient class times, some programs utilize what is known as a “group” or “cohort” model that provides a context within which students can find support, and which allows them to retain important outside-the-classroom statuses and identities. The purpose of the study was to determine whether close identification with a group of relatively like others plays a role in elevating the self-concepts of adult students.

The research proposes that the group model utilized by some degree-completion programs may result in the creation of thought communities. The study explores whether this delivery model has the potential to transform cohorts of adult students into thought communities from which learning cultures may emerge. When groups become thought communities, learning environments can become places where students are less dependent on professors’ supervision, and are more empowered to recognize the depth of their own skill and experience, and the relevance of that experience to the ongoing task of learning.

Data for the study were obtained from nine program groups in the Covenant College Quest program. A pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design was used to assess the impact of several features of small group process and structure on the self-concepts of adult students. The pretest was administered when students first enrolled in the program, and the posttest was given when they entered their second semester (approximately seven months later). Dependent variables were measured using the Tennessee Self-concept Scale (second version: TSCS:2). Data for independent variables were obtained using a questionnaire designed by the researcher. Complete pretest and posttest data were obtained from 109 Quest students (n = 109). Results from multiple regression analysis suggested statistically significant relationships between “influence of instructor” and an increase in student “total” self-concept scores, and between the “group supplying imagery for a possible self” and an increase in total self-concept scores. In addition, support was found for a positive relationship between a “student’s describing his/her group as cohesive” and an increase in “social” self-concept scores.

This study demonstrates that the program group does play a role in elevating the self-concepts of adult students in degree-completion programs. It suggests that the program group provides a “context of possibility” from which thought communities may develop. These thought communities may help bridge the gulf between the temporary world of higher education and the outside worlds which adult students inhabit. This research raises questions about universalistic approaches to higher education and suggests that if education is to be made meaningful for adult students, the institutions that deliver education must develop programs that account for the mental memberships their students hold in worlds outside the academy.

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