The lived experience of attending college as an older adult: The phenomenological perspective of students age 60 and older



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Texas Tech University


The purpose of this study was to investigate the meaning of attending college or university courses for academic credit as an older adult student from the interrelational and perspectival nature of the participant. The problem, from a phenomenological perspective, was the need to explore what it is like to be an older adult student. The question that guided this study was: What is the meaning of being an older adult student in an educational environment which has been traditionally focused on the needs of younger students'i' Educational gerontology and phenomenology provided the theoretical foundation for this inquiry.

Following the work of Van Manen, this study used a phenomenological approach to gather and collect data In-depth conversational interviews were conducted with 13 purposely-selected older adult students, age 60 and older, enrolled in higher education programs in Minnesota and Texas Interviews were tape recorded and transcribed verbatim. Experiential descriptions were also collected in the format of protocol writings. As the researcher, I investigated other sources know to yield significant interpretive understanding such as poetry, literature, and students' creative work. Thematic analysis and phenomenological writing were guided by Van Manen's hermeneutical approach to doing phenomenology.

Four major themes and 12 sub-themes representing meaningfial expressions of the lived experience of being an older adult student were identified "Autonomous Participation," "Tenacious Sensibilities," "Enhanced Self," and "Aging with Integrity" emerged as essential themes. Older adults participate in higher education programs with a sense of autonomy, solitariness, and perseverance. Interviewees described inharmonious impressions, intrinsic pleasurability, and referential expressions associated with the learning experience From their lived-experience descriptions emerged delineative subthemes related to informed citizenship, individuality and identity, and creativity. Older adult students shared a healthfiil perspective about growing older. The lived experience of being an older adult student contributes to interpersonal enrichment and intergenerational symbiosis.

This study revealed new understandings about the lifeworld of older adult students These findings provide a basis for policy and practice recommendations for higher education faculty, administrators, policymakers, and student support services suggestions for further research are discussed Understanding the special needs of older aduh learners may indeed warrant a new field of geriagogy—the art and science of teaching adults age 60 and older.



Adult college students, Adult education