An Exploratory Study of Student Affairs Professionals' Conceptualization of Adulthood
Pickard, Jennifer Meyers
Komives, Susan R
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This study used the conceptualization of emerging adulthood (a newly proposed phase in the lifespan that is attributed to demographic and societal shifts extending the time period in which young people feel as if they are in-between and neither adolescent nor adult) to examine student affairs professionals' perceptions of college student adulthood. Specifically, the research questions examined differences by generational status (Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial) on the importance of the 34 individual criteria that comprise adulthood (Arnett, 2001; Badger et al., 2006; Nelson et al., 2007) and the importance of these criteria when grouped into the five subscales of emerging adulthood: role transitions, norm compliance, biological/age-related factors, family capacities, and relational maturity. An online survey of student affairs professionals produced 654 respondents. Results from statistical analysis indicated that the most important criteria for student affairs professionals in determining whether or not a person has reached adulthood are accepting responsibility for the consequences of one's actions, developing greater consideration for others, becoming less self-oriented, being financially independent from parents/guardians, and establishing a relationship with parents as an equal adult. Overall, generational status did not result in dramatic differences in student affairs professionals' conceptualizations of adulthood. Regardless of their generational status, almost half (46%) of the student affairs professionals in this investigation did not believe that traditional undergraduates just entering college were adults but when these same students graduate, almost three-quarters (72%) of the student affairs professionals respondents believed that the traditional students were full-fledged adults. Findings confirmed that student affairs professionals' criteria for adulthood are similar to those of traditional college students and parents (Nelson et al., 2007), but also revealed a significant disconnect in the timeline that student affairs professionals deemed necessary for the achievement of adulthood as compared to traditional college students and their parents. These results have implications for both higher education research and professional practice as they highlight the conflicting expectations of students and parents as compared to student affairs professionals and higher education as a whole regarding the role that the college milieu plays in the achievement of adulthood.