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The Overlooked Working Majority: Supporting Working Adult Learners at California Community Colleges with Intentionality


One populations of current and prospective students that is too diverse and too important to ignore is working adult learners, especially at California Community Colleges, the only public open access option in the state. Working adult learners are characterized as students 25 years or older who work more than part-time and are often low-income. Unfortunately, traditional pathways to a degree are not designed for post-traditional students such as working adults. This three-part sequential mixed methodology study first, builds a profile of working adult students at California Community Colleges by exploring the characteristics and trajectories of working adults in the system through an analysis of economic and enrollment data. Second, the study explores how welcoming and receptive colleges are to this key population through a document analysis. Third, through focus groups and interviews, the study explores the extent and ways in which institutional structures, experiences, and interactions with the institutions influence working adult student persistence, completion, and success. The concluding seven recommendations deviate from the bygone notion that students adapt to their colleges and instead suggests that colleges adapt to its students. Most importantly, this study challenges common assumptions that working adult learners are “non-traditional.”

Keywords: community colleges, working adults, adult learners, post-traditional students

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