Participation and Non-Participation in Formal Adult Education: A Study of Deterrents for an Organizational Leadership Development Program

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Virginia Tech

Organizations are increasingly supporting employee's educational pursuits, especially when continuing education is used as a strategy to achieve organizational goals or groom future executives. Fulmer and Wagner (1999) found that best-practice organizations developed their own leaders and that senior executives were products of internal leadership development systems. This quantitative study was designed to better understand deterrents to participation in formal adult education from the perspective of mid- to upper-level professional, technical, executive, administrative, and managerial employees who participated in a quasi-governmental organization's leadership development program.

The program consisted of three phases. The first two took place within the confines of the organization over a one-year period, and completion rates were almost one-hundred percent. For phase three, the formal education component of the program where three years were allotted to achieve the objectives, the completion rates were much lower. As a result, fifty-nine percent of all participants failed to complete the program in its entirety.

Three questions were explored in the study: (a) despite efforts of the employer to address major deterrents (time, costs, family responsibilities, access, and employer support), to what extent do employees perceive any of these deterrents still exist, (b) what other deterrents do employees face as they approach or become active in the formal adult education segment (Phase III) of the leadership development program, and (c) what do employees perceive as enablers provided by the employer?

A slightly modified Deterrents to Participation Scale-General (DPS-G) augmented with three open-ended questions was used to collect data from eight hundred and thirty-three respondents. Sixty-seven percent had completed all three phases of the leadership development program. Multivariate analysis of variance and content analysis were the primary analytical methods used. Results revealed that typical deterrents to participation in formal adult education were not very problematic for the respondents in this study; however, findings here reinforce those in the literature regarding the critical need for organizational support.

The results have implications for the subject organization and may also apply to smaller organizations, global enterprise, and private industry, where leadership development programs with a formal education component exist or may be implemented.

leadership development, adult education theory, formal adult education, employer support, deterrents to participation