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Nontraditional students who attend institutions of higher education must understand that there are many stress factors that affect adult students. Many of these factors include, but, are not limited to work, school and their personal life. Adult students face the stress of balancing the different demands and roles at work, school and in their personal lives. In accordance with resource scarcity theory, going back to school creates another role domain that competes for limited resources: the student’s time, energy and finances (Giancola, Grawitch, Norchert, 2009, p.
A study was done to test the comprehensive stress models that assert the cognitive evaluation, coping arbitrator between stressor or interrole conflicts and the psychological and social aspects of the adult college student. High levels of stress corresponded with lower positive evaluations and higher negative evaluations. These evaluations predicted specific adaptive and maladaptive coping behaviors. Adaptive behaviors result in positive outcomes and lead to constructive, healthy psychosocial and physical outcomes for the adult learner.
Maladaptive behaviors, such as behavioral disengagement, denial, substance use and venting have negative impacts on the adult learner. “Family-school conflict and school-work conflict and work stressors, in particular, emerge as key stressors for the adult student” (Giancola, Grawitch, Norchert, 2009, p. 246).
“Two outcome variables were investigated in this study to examine the psychosocial impact of stressors on adult students: general life satisfaction and mental well-being” (Giancola, Grawitch, Norchert, 2009, p. 249). It was determined that evaluation and coping would serve as the mediators in the relationship linking stressor or interrole conflicts and the outcomes.
However the adult learner evaluates events, whether positively or negatively, the behaviors utilized determine the outcome and cope with either adaptive or maladaptive coping behaviors.
The result of the study determined that work stressors were the greatest source of stress for the adult learner than personal and school stressors. Adult students have the least control over their work situation and are better able to make sacrifices and negotiate demands in their personal and social lives than in their work life. This theory does not conclude that school and family stressors are meaningless; however, “the highest level of interrole conflict was actually between school and family” (Giancola, Grawitch, Norchert, 2009, p. 258).
The adult learner’s success goes beyond preparing academically. Higher education institutes have a responsibility to assist the adult learner as they transition back to school. Support services should be aimed towards adult learners through academic and financial aid advisors, peer advisors, orientations and support faculty and staff without compounding academic accuracy. Universities can help reduce interrole conflict by including family and employers into their services. The university could invite families to the orientations or other events at the university as well as provide child care onsite to support the adult learner.
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