Adult Basic Education Students' Perceptions of Personal/Social Costs and Benefits
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Title of dissertation: ADULT BASIC EDUCATION STUDENTS'
PERCEPTIONS OF PERSONAL/SOCIAL COSTS AND
Joanne L. Gartner, Candidate for Doctoral Degree, 2005
Dissertation directed by: Professor Allan Wigfield
Department of Human Development
This mixed-methods study was designed to investigate how adults who did not finish high school and are now enrolled in an adult basic education program integrated this educational program into their everyday lives. Its purpose was to analyze how such integration distinguished those who persisted in the program from those who withdrew within the first six weeks of participation. Expectancy-value theory (Wigfield & Eccles, 1992; Eccles, Wigfield & Schiefele, 1998; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000) suggested that students' perceptions of costs and benefits about returning to school would affect expectations and values about remaining in the program. Anticipated and perceived benefits and costs of returning to school were operationalized as goal content in accordance with the Ford and Nichols Taxonomy of Human Goals (Ford & Nichols, 1987, Ford 1992). Using a goal content perspective, multiple goal theory (Ford, 1992; Wentzel, 2000) further framed students' participation in school as the coordination of personal/social goals.
Subjects were adults over the age of 25 in a self-paced, GED program, recruited from June 2003 to March 2004 by permission of the Department of Adult Education in a rural community college. Four interviews conducted at approximately 10-day to 2-week intervals revealed that while adults pursuing basic education typically returned to school with long-term expectations, they sustained participation in accordance with finding specific kinds of short-term benefits.
This study raised new considerations regarding the constructs of expectations and the subjective value of cost. Expectations may have distinct kinds of influence upon values when they are perceived as modifiable or not, and whether they are met or unmet. Not meeting negative expectations may influence values distinctly from meeting positive expectations. This study expanded upon the definition of the overall value of cost by considering how it is affected by short-term costs, and how the relationship between short-term benefits and short-term costs influences ability-related beliefs. The short-term benefits associated with persistence seemed less related to long-term expectations than to the experiential contexts that incurred perceptions of short-term costs. This finding highlights the cognitive nature of the costs that affect expectations and valuation. It also corroborates the claim from multiple goal theory (Ford, 1992; Wentzel, 2000) that goals must find compatibility with the personal and social contexts within which they are constructed in order to become stable within a person's overall goal framework.