Date of Award

5-2004

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education

Major Professor

Ralph Brockett

Committee Members

John Peters, Mary Ziegler, Glenn Graber

Abstract

While adult education can occur in a variety of settings, the number of adults returning to higher education has increased over the years. Because these adults tend to be older than the “typical” college student, they are frequently categorized as “nontraditional” students. Many nontraditional students struggle to manage the student role as it interacts with other life roles. Even though multiple roles provide the heterogeneity of experience that adult learners bring to higher education classrooms, they can add to the daily stress experience by returning students.

Stress has been reported to be a major barrier faced by adults returning to school. However, at present very little is known about the ways in which adult learners navigate the challenges of coursework, especially during times of perceived stress. Stressors experienced by returning women have been explored though little has been done to investigate issues and concerns of men returning to academia in their adult years. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of nontraditional, reentry, undergraduate male students engaged in academic coursework during times of reported psychological stress. The research question that served as the guide for inquiry was: How do undergraduate, reentry male, college students navigate through academic coursework, especially during times of perceived psychological stress?

Men between the ages of 43 and 54 were interviewed using a semi-structured interview technique. Major themes that emerged were: 1) the occurrence of stress while engaged in coursework; 2) perspectives on academic coursework; and 3) strategies utilized to facilitate engagement in academic coursework. Findings indicated that the stress experienced did not emanate so much from the academic coursework as it did from personal struggles, relationships and/or family obligations, and work demands. Several participants spoke to a difference in self over time with regard to engagement in collegiate studies as well as a difference in their perception of learning. Strategies utilized to navigate through academic coursework were activated to maximize the potential for academic success while not adding to the stress being experienced. Recommendations for theory and practice are offered.

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