Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version



Meyer, S. N. (2014). Not designed with us in mind: Exploring the experiences and needs of adult learners at a public research university (MA thesis, University of Nebraska).


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Educational Administration, Under the Supervision of Professor Debra Mullen. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2014

Copyright (c) 2014 Stephanie N. Meyer


Adult learners are a rapidly expanding student population, constituting more than 40 percent of college students today (Stokes, 2006). Research on adult learners has historically focused on their experiences within adult-centered institutions where they make up the majority student population. Although older students challenge the status quo of higher education, traditional institutions continue to dismiss their needs in the development of policies and practices. The structure of higher education is historically designed to serve youth and assumptions are often made about students that often overlook the needs, availability, and interests of adult learners. For many adult learners who prefer the perceived prestige of public research universities, they have no other option but to push forward despite the lack of institutional support. This study contributes to the limited research on adult learner experiences within public research institutions, and provides necessary insight into the subjective experiences of students with competing adult roles.

This qualitative phenomenological study examines the unique experiences and needs of eight adult learners at Great Plains University. Great Plains University is a four-year public research institution located in the Midwest region of the United States. Qualitative interviews were conducted utilizing a semi-structured, informal interview protocol with eight undergraduate students who identified as 25 years of age or older, and were enrolled at least part-time in a degree-seeking program. The findings indicated that adult learners’ outside systems of support and needs greatly influenced their overall perception of institutional climate. The researcher provides practical recommendations for serving older students at an institution predominantly attended by traditional-age undergraduates and offers recommendations for future research.

Adviser: Debra Mullen