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Submitted By: Nora Kenney, MiraCosta College Community Learning Center

Barriers and Bridges: How Action Research Can Inform Resource Allocation

The Challenge

What encourages and discourages adult learners’ progress as they work towards their academic and vocational goals? While adult education practitioners and policy makers alike are familiar with student struggles as they play out in classroom settings—and define low student retention and other undesirable outcomes—only through in-depth knowledge of challenges and opportunities can adult educators design and fund effective programs. Clearly, student perspectives remain crucial to these issues, but how do we capture these perspectives in academically rigorous ways and examine the dynamics behind the quantitative data? How do we capture the stories behind the statistics and make truly student-centric resource allocation decisions?

The Solution

MiraCosta College adult education faculty, staff, and administration identified a small group of students who represent AEBG target populations. The noncredit research analyst showed the group how to collect qualitative data, including writing ethnographic field notes; in doing so, students documented details related to the challenges and opportunities they and their peers experienced on an ongoing basis. This approach has enabled consortium leadership to gain critical insight into the experiences of individual students from AEBG targeted student populations. The data collection period spanned July 2015 to December 2015, with the next phase of data collection beginning January 2016.


Preliminary findings show barriers to student success included:
• Immigration
• Time management and personal demands (employment, childcare)
• Lack of resources (transportation, computer access)
• Racism
• Prison record
• Psychological challenges
• Violence
• Institutional/pedagogical insensitivity
Preliminary findings also showed these bridges encouraged academic endeavors:
• Community (school and neighborhood)
• Family as motivation
• School resources (teachers, student activities, the research project)
• Role models
Research methodologies were also adapted and integrated into literacy curriculum for adults with disabilities, who wrote about their barriers and bridges to education.

The Data

Research findings have provided consortium administration with crucial insight as they determine budgetary and resource allocation. For example, professional development will be tailored to address the finding related to institutional and pedagogical insensitivity. Furthermore, student-researchers have bolstered their academic skills and confidence levels, with adult high school and ESL students presenting their work at a prestigious STEM-focused college, where upper-division university students from top tier universities also presented their work. In short, while quantitative data provide critical insights into student trends, qualitative data enable deeper views into the barriers and bridges to adult education student pathways.

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