New research on ways to support student transition

Jared Cook, Adult Learners and Students with Children KC Representative

March 14, 2019

After reading a piece from Josh Alvarez in February's blog titled Transitioning to college and beyond: A reflection, I found myself heading deeper into the world of persistence and retention.  In 2016, Vincent Tinto published another piece that I think adds even more strengths to Josh’s questions.  Alvarez (2019) states “We all play a role in someone’s transition experience whether they are entering college for the first time, going to grad school, or starting their first professional job.  Let’s remember to look at people through a holistic lens” (p. 1).  As the Adult Learner and Students with Children (ALSC) Knowledge Community (KC) IV-W representative, Josh’s piece presents a good starting point for reflection, and I’d like to expound upon that effort with an emphasis on our adult learner population on campus.

In Tinto’s (2016) newest update to his retention model, he emphasizes persistence, which mirrors the emphasis Josh puts on transition experience. 

“While the institution’s interest is to increase the proportion of their students who graduate from the institution, the student’s interest is to complete a degree often without regard to the college or university in which it is earned. When viewed from the students’ perspective, persistence is but one form of motivation” (Tinto, 2016, p. 1). 

Tinto (2016) identified self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and perceived value of the curriculum as areas where both student affairs administrators, as well as faculty, can better serve students.  I want to explore one of these concepts in this blog; Self-efficacy.


Tinto (2016) looked at self-efficacy as one of the persistence factors for students.  Self-efficacy “refers to a person’s belief in their ability to succeed at a particular task or in a specific situation” (p. 2). Working with adult learners, many who return to education are nervous about their self-efficacy.  As a graduate research assistant working with students at the masters and doctoral level, I can’t tell you how many time I’ve heard the comment ‘I’ve been out of school for x years, I don’t know how I will do this’, or, ‘I don’t belong in this program’. An adult learner is stepping into a new environment, with new norms and preconceived notions of the college experience that may leave them feeling isolated. The lack of self-efficacy for students returning to education after an extended period is both reasonable and fixable, especially in the first semester. 

The good news is Tinto (2016) makes clear that self-efficacy is

“...learned, not inherited. It is malleable, not fixed. It is not generalizable in that it applies to all tasks and situations but can vary depending on the particular task or situation at hand. A person may feel capable of succeeding at one task but not another” (p. 2).

This leaves room for student affairs professionals to mold a learners views on self-efficacy. One of the best ways to help returning learners is to tackle this self-efficacy issue upon entering higher education.  By providing opportunities for mentorship, flexibility, and feedback, creating programming, spaces on campus, or mentoring opportunities for adult learners that cater to their needs (i.e., later programming, options for daycare), an adult learners feelings of support can provide the bedrock toward self-efficacy.  While each campus has its own unique culture that either lends itself to the adult learner or does not, at the very least you have the ability as a professional on campus to provide opportunities for mentoring, as well as support. You would not believe just the difference an institutional support makes for an adult learner.  Put another way, if you are unable to facilitate new programs, or policies, dedicate a window of time to mentoring adult learners.  It doesn’t have to be a large amount of time, but as you reflect on your current area, your policies, programs, and procedures consider Josh’s words and “look through a holistic lens” (Alavarez, 2019, p. 1).

Alvarez, J. (2019, February 10). Transitioning to college and beyond: A reflection. NASPA. Retrieved from

Tinto, V. (2016, September 26). From retention to persistence. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

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