FACTORS AFFECTING GOAL COMPLETION
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PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COMMITTEE
OF LYNDON STATE COLLEGE,
Attrition in Adult Basic Education programs is a problem that has concerned tutors and administrators since the advent of the program. It is estimated that approximately 60% of those who enroll in ABE either to acquire basic literacy skills, prepare for a GED, study for their drivers permit or Commercial Drivers License, learn introductory computer skills, brush-up on basic reading, writing, and math skills, or prepare for U.S. citizenship leave the program before reaching their goal(s).
Various studies have been done, particularly in the last decade, attempting to determine what factors influence dropout and persistence. Most research has been quantitative, focusing on reasons for dropout, using data from end-of-the-year reports and Department of Education statistics. The validity of this information is dependent upon the accuracy of the person filling out the exit sheet. Interpretations of federal questionnaires can vary from state to state. Often the reasons a person leaves the program are not known and follow-up can be difficult.
This study questioned successful goal completers directly about factors that influenced their persistence. Ten former students were interviewed and their responses taped, transcribed, and analyzed, in an attempt to isolate the characteristics or factors that encouraged continuation until completion of their goals. A demographics sheet covered: sex, age, marital status, length of time spent working on the goal, length of time from enrollment to completion of the goal, employment, family, class location, number of tutors worked with, last grade completed in school, last grade parents completed, prior school experience, diagnosis of learning disabilities, perception of learning, medical problems as a child, medication used (as a child or when an ABE student), and self-determination in approaching tasks. The main interview questions started out by asking what helped them reach their goals and, if they had thought of quitting, what kept them going. Other issues addressed were the impact of making progress, interest in subjects, program aspects (time of classes, etc.), self-esteem, and support.
Six of the ten participants said that their own determination had the greatest impact upon their perseverence. One of those six also mentioned the tutor and another the desire to learn and the goal of a B.A. One former ABE student listed the tutor as primarily responsible for her continuation but credited her children also and her desire to improve in math. Another said it was her wish to become a U.S. citizen and realizing that she was capable of doing it. The realization of ability was repeated by another, along with improved self-esteem and wanting to pass college classes. Someone else said that the goal of college and a promised party kept him going.
Other things that the participants mentioned as being factors in their continuation until completion of their goals were: making progress, improved self-esteem (low upon entry into the program but greatly improved upon success and goal attainment), presence of support (family and tutor), flexible meeting times, and convenient location of classes (home or nearby learning center).
Common characteristics or factors of this sample of ABE students that may or may not have any bearing on perseverence were: a stated goal, the goal of GED, working with one tutor, being met in their homes, not leaving the program before reaching their goal, spending less than a year working on the goal, time elapsed from declaration of goal to completion being less than a year, lack of a learning disability diagnosis, not feeling that they learned differently, single marital status, no medical problems as a child, no medication as a child, and no medication while an ABE student. Lack of inspiration by subject material was also a common characteristic but most likely wouldnt have affected perseverence.
Recommendations for program improvement and implications for further research are included at the end of the study.
This study is dedicated to all the students who have participated in the Adult Basic Education program and are either struggling to accomplish their goals or have already completed them. It is also dedicated to the tutors, who through their own dedication, innovation, and perseverance have aided their students in their efforts.
There are a few people I with to thank for the help and support they gave me while working on this study ("the project"). First of all I owe my graduate advisory committee at Lyndon State College in Lyndonville, Vermont special thanks for bearing with me while I designed this study, interviewed former students, transcribed their taped interviews, and analyzed the results for this paper. Special thanks go to Linda Metzke, my advisor, Sheryl Hruska, and Irene Blanchard for their suggestions on the research design and wording of the interview questions. Irene offered helpful information on qualitative research and Shers notes gave me encouragement.
Special thanks also goes to Vic Lapuszynski, former editor of three monthly magazines and current freelance online editor, who painstakingly transcribed at least eleven hours of taped interviews and helped format my computer for the writing of this paper. He also was instrumental in running off drafts at the local printing shop for editing purposes. Without his help this would not have come together. Northland Printers also deserves thanks for allowing access to their laser printer at odd hours.
Support for completion of this study came from friends and associates. Special thanks goes to Ilene Elliott for her support in the eleventh hour. Her words of encouragement motivated me to completion of my goal. Also, I wish to thank my friends Miki and Linda for understanding when I couldnt socialize because I had to work on the study. My sister Irene, mother, and boyfriend also gave verbal support to completion of this project.
To everyone who helped this study reach completion, I wish to say thanks, but especially to my students and those involved in this research project whose own stories and words of determination fueled my own determination.