Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Education

Document Type



Adult students are generally classified as a single group for study, yet developmental psychologists recognize separate developmental periods during adulthood that suggest adult students at midlife may experience development within higher education differently that younger adult students, in part due to ageism expressed at individual, institutional and internalized levels. This project applies the concept of lifespan developmental periods to distinguish students at midlife as a focus of inquiry using a mixed method design. Twenty-nine faculty and 205 students responded to the Relating to Older People Evalution (ROPE; Cherry & Palmore, 2008) to assess self-reports of both positive and negative ageist behaviors within a community college context. Ten students who self-identified as middle-aged were interviewed to answer the main research question:

  • How does participation in higher education contribute to renegotiations of identity for students at midlife?

More positive than negative ageist behaviors were reported by both students and faculty. Comments offered by the faculty and students in this project describe mostly positive expectations and views of older students who are actively engaged in their own learning and experiencing nurturing relationships with each other, with younger peers and with faculty both in and outside of the classroom. The individual experiences of ten students were presented. The heterogeneity of this population was illustrated, along with substantial evidence for variations on age norms and atypical life experiences. These students described life experiences far removed from the relatively elite young students who are more often privileged by research attention. The experiences relayed by those students interviewed provide rich details of institutional-level and faculty-level policies that support or hinder their academic progress. Their experiences also point to areas that need further study to more fully understand how to meet the learning and developmental needs of this specific population of students.

Committee Chair

Kennedy, Eugene