A study of graduates from the Master of Arts in Adult Education program at Federal City College

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


In this study graduates who entered the master's program in adult education at Federal City College without the undergraduate degree were compared with graduates who entered the program with the undergraduate degree to determine why the students entered the program, what the students brought to the program, how the students performed in the program, and how they were affected by the program. The population was 130 students who graduated between June 1970 and June 1974. Fifty-three were non-degree students and seventy-seven were degree students.

The Master of Arts in Adult Education Program was initially a staff development activity for the Adult Education Demonstration Center faculty and staff. The project was sub-contracted to Federal City College and became the first graduate program in adult education in the United States to admit participants who did not have the undergraduate degree.


Selected strategies of grounded theory and field research were used to inductively generate theories about the program and its graduates. Interviews, conversations, personal correspondence, a questionnaire, and the Adult Education Department's application forms and reference letters were used as primary sources. Secondary sources were the college catalog and brochures, the program proposal, departmental evaluation reports and grade rosters. Student documents were perused to collect data on the sex, degree status, ethnic background, age and marital status. After significant similarities emerged concerning the locale of post-secondary education experiences, the nature of undergraduate preparation, the nature of adult education experiences, and student motivation, a questionnaire was structured to further validate data collected.

The information that was solicited on the questionnaire included the date and place of high school graduation, past and present employment, reasons for enrollment, prior adult experiences, reactions to program involvements, student and non-student roles, socio-economic/ educational advancements, and organizational affiliations.

Fifty-eight students responded to the questionnaire. Thirty were degree students; twenty-eight were non-degree students. Twenty-five were female and thirty-three were male. The graduates' responses were compared initially within the program of study under which they entered during the Spring 1969, Spring 1970 or Winter 1971 quarter. The three groups of non-degree students were furthered compared with the three groups of degree students.


The findings were as follows:

  1. The non-degree student was older than the degree student; the median ages were thirty-eight for the non-degree student and thirty-two for the degree student.

  2. There were no apparent differences between the degree and non-degree students based on sex.

  3. A larger percentage of the non-degree students were married.

  4. Teaching was the experience most degree students had had working with adults; the majority of the non-degree students had worked with adults as community workers.

  5. Both groups of students had equal involvement with adults as program developers and program directors.

  6. Military and on-the-job training provided the specialized training and experiences that allowed many non-degree students to qualify for admission to the program.

  7. Family responsibilities were obstacles for two-thirds of the graduates.

  8. The degree had improved the income and provided professional flexibility for ninety percent of the graduates.

  9. Twenty of the fifty-eight respondents had applied and/or had been admitted to doctoral programs. Seven were non-degree graduates and thirteen were degree graduates. Four graduates completed second master's.

  10. The non-degree students received slightly better grades in two of the courses.

  11. The master's degree fostered upward mobility.

  12. The master's degree provided the opportunity for second careers.


The study generated the following theories which may be tested in future studies:

  1. The master's degree student who has no undergraduate degree but has had experiences teaching, counseling, developing or administering programs or providing support services for adults can successfully complete a degree program.

  2. The differences in the non-degree and degree students cannot be related to sex, locale of post-secondary educational experiences, nature of undergraduate training and academic achievement.

  3. The agencies of the federal and local governments as well as business and private industry provide non-collegiate learning experiences in specialized fields comparable to the baccalaureate degree.

  4. Vocational motivation is a greater incentive for the completion of the degree than social motivation.