“Mind the gap”: how a university can bridge the gap between expectations and reality for adult undergraduate students

Date of Award

Spring 2013




Doctor of Education


Counseling, Foundations & Leadership


Adult undergraduate students find that returning to college is much like building a house of cards (Hardin, 2008). In this cross-sectional survey methodology study, the author focuses on the performance gap between the importance and satisfaction of adult students with a range of priorities, programs, policies, and support systems. Data was collected through two surveys, the web-based Adult Learner Inventory (ALI), administered to all undergraduate students aged 25 and older enrolled at the public, four-year, comprehensive university in the spring of 2011, and the Institutional Self-Assessment Survey (ISAS), completed by the administrators responsible for adult student programming. The ISAS is a self-assessment tool for an institution to examine reflectively its resources, structures, and practices in light of nine principles for effective instruction for adults. The ISAS responses and the ALI performance gaps are compared to focus on institutional programs and structures that may impact the performance gap both positively and negatively. Findings form the basis of strategies for refining, strengthening, or developing support programs to enhance adult student recruitment, progression, and graduation (RPG). Results suggest adult students are satisfied with access to data and technology, quality of instruction, and academic expectations, but are less satisfied with flexibility of schedules, pro-active advising to stay on track, and guidance in developing an overall educational plan.

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