Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Adams, James

Committee Member

Olinzock, Anthony

Committee Member

Davis, E. James

Committee Member

Wiseman, Marty

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms

MSU Only Indefinitely

Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only


Instructional Systems and Workforce Development

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education


Department of Instructional Systems and Workforce Development


With the number of adult undergraduate students and the competition for these students at an all-time high, educators and administrators must have an understanding of how to not only attract these individuals, but to retain them throughout their educational careers. Recognizing the diverse needs of adult students and the importance of retaining them should be a major priority for colleges and universities. For higher educational institutions attempting to attract and retain the adult student population, a clear understanding of their experiences was warranted. This research utilized a qualitative design that focused on adult (defined as age 24 or older) undergraduate students currently enrolled at a major land-grant institution. An interpretive case study was undertaken to examine the adult students’ perception of their experiences. Questions were designed to learn (a) what the students perceived as barriers to their educational journey, (b) what the students perceived as factors contributing to their success, (c) how their experiences at the land-grant institution impacted their lives; and (d) how the students perceived the services and policies of the land-grant institution. Interview data were supplemented by data gathered from document analysis, reflective journals, photographs, and researcher field notes. A total of 14 themes were identified within the various categories. With regards to barriers, the most frequently mentioned themes included (a) role conflict (b) time management, and (c) institutional barriers. The most frequently mentioned themes related to factors enabling success included (a) being a role model, (b) parental support, (c) student support, (d) faculty/staff support, and (e) internal desire. The most commonly mentioned themes related to how their experience has impacted their lives included (a) sense of self, (b) broader view of the world, and (c) goal setting. Finally, with regards to university services and policies, the most frequently mentioned themes included (a) advisement, (b) orientation, and (c) technology training. Analysis of the data and findings established the basis for recommendations and comments that may be useful to administrators and faculty in an effort to establish the most efficient and effective services and policies necessary for the recruitment and retention of the growing adult student population.