“My Kids Come First – Education Second”: Exploring Success of Women Undergraduate Adult Learners
Conducting this study and beginning to write this journal article in graduate school was the first time that I had the opportunity to deeply explore something that mattered to me on an academic, personal and societal level. The reason I chose to focus in on this issue stemmed from my experiences as the first in my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. When my mother was in her twenties she put her educational goals on hold to raise me and my twin brother. Over the years, she contemplated the idea of returning to higher education and even took a few classes, but it was apparent that traditional universities were not set up for people in her situation. I have always said that my mom is smarter than me, so there is no doubt that she would have been successful; however, education was no longer her number one priority. My initial goal with the study was to interview 5-10 women aged 24 years or older. All of the women I ended up interviewing just happened to be mothers who also agreed that their “kids come first—education second.” Each of these women impacted my way of thinking about access to higher education, and the roles of societal expectations and self-empowerment around educational achievement. I am so grateful for the opportunities to get to know each of these women, and to share my findings with other scholar practitioners who I hope will utilize this information to create change in their spheres of influence.
This phenomenological study explored the success of women undergraduate adult learners at a predominantly traditional-aged, mid-size, public master’s comprehensive institution in the Midwest. Five women undergraduate adult learners participated in two intensive individual interviews, focusing on how their experiences have facilitated or hindered their overall success in higher education. Although not intended in the purpose of the study, all participants identified as student-mothers. Findings revealed participants’ motivations to attend college, perceived barriers, and facilitators for success in higher education. Participants’ primary motivation to advance in higher education was to serve as an example to their kids. College educators should consider initiatives toward a climate shift that supports and values women adult learners and mothers as well as implement pre-college programs, peer support groups, and accessible childcare.