Rodney L. Parks, Ph.D.
Jonathan W. Rich, Research Assistant
University of Georgia Back to School: Baby Boomers in the Classroom The purpose of this study was to explore the unique experiences of students from the Baby Boomer cohort as they transition back to the classroom at a large, traditional Southeastern university.
With a growing number of baby-boomers retiring and going back to school, many institutions offer free or reduced tuition to students aged 62 and over to return to the classroom.
Challenges relating to culture, technology, and logistics were explored. Description This study followed the tenets of qualitative phenomenology, aimed at understanding the meaning of the experiences of seven students participating in the 62 and older reduced tuition program.
Purposeful sampling of participants, two sets of semi-structured interviews, and transcriptions.
Data analysis used open coding and thick descriptions to identify major themes of participants’ experiences. Research Methods and Procedure Sample Lifelong Learning:
“I’ve always tried to improve my mind and, kind of humorously, I say I am here to avoid Alzheimer’s.” (Peter.)
“I enjoy the college town atmosphere. I’ve lived in college towns most of my life. It’s just an environment I like. You run into all sorts of people from all walks of life. That’s something you don’t see in smaller towns or non-university towns.” (David.) HIGHLIGHTS OF FINDINGS Second-Class Students:
“Most of [the students] seem to be kind of mystified by who I am and why I’m taking a class that they’re taking. I don’t think they really know how to relate to me. I’m like a giraffe in a party of mice.” (David.)
“Some students are indifferent to you. They think you are a spy for their parents or something. I’m not sure. You’re an anomaly and it’s probably difficult for them to relate.” (Brian.) HIGHLIGHTS OF FINDINGS Admissions/Registration Challenges:
“Say you want to take a class for which there is a pre-requisite. If all you’ve ever done is audit, the system knows you’ve audited the pre-requisite, but you have no credit for it. So it says you don’t have the pre-requisite. So you have to call the department and get an override.” (Jennifer.)
“I feel like I’m explaining myself five or six different times just to get into a class.” (Danielle.)
HIGHLIGHTS OF FINDINGS Participants expressed support for lifelong learning and the college town atmosphere.
Although participants expressed a range of positive and negative interactions with students and faculty, most experienced isolation and indifference. Participants regarded themselves as “guests” in the classroom.
The cumbersome registration and enrollment process was a significant burden. Respondents expressed frustrations relating to enrollment requirements, registration, and lack of contact with advisors. Summary and Implications Economic Motivations
Additional research is needed to explore the goals, motivations, and challenges unique to degree seeking students who are age 62 and older.
All participants had a strong background in technology. Potential 62 and older students may be discouraged from returning to school due to a perceived technology gap. Future Research Integration into Campus Life
Participants expressed a desire to reach out to other students in the 62 and older program. Suggestions included interactive websites, printed brochures, and informal get-togethers. Future research is needed to understand the effectiveness of each of these approaches at integrating the 62 and older students into the campus community. Future Research (cont.)See the full transcript