Occasionally, these students come together accidentally and discover the camaraderie that they have been looking for, but didn’t think they had time to create.
This past summer, I received an email from a recent graduate illustrating just how important peer support is for the adult student population – even if the support comes in the form of a silent presence. In his early fifties, Jay was already a success in his field, so he didn’t the degree.
She too, was in the same seat, at the same times, every day. We worked side by side, cranking out schoolwork, drinking coffee, eating breakfast or lunch, while working away furiously.
Day after day, we sat together, barely communicating, but feeling each other's presence. In almost every class I took, I was much older than my classmates, and while I was comfortable, there was a disconnect.
Seeing that woman in the library every day and saying 'Good Morning,' or just glancing at each other and smiling with a knowing look, was enough to let us know that we had some spiritual support and understanding.
As advisors, we wear many hats when we work with adult learners.
Not only do we act as human steering mechanisms, directing students to important offices and services on campus, but also advisors tend to serve as confidantes.
Sometimes, advisors substitute for the shoulder, or the ear, that the adult learner cannot seem to find anywhere else on campus.
Giczkowski and Allen (as quoted by Marques, 2005) noted that “academic advisors should be aware of the special desires and concerns that adult students have when they re-enter college” (p. Marques (2005) further pointed out “adult learners seek a peer relationship of encouragement and care, good advice and – most of all – decent and devoted representation in handling their academic issues…” (p. While academic advisors can, and do, provide guidance and the occasional shoulder, advisors cannot serve as a substitute for the camaraderie and support that comes from a fellow student, someone who is in the trenches.
Often friends and family try to be supportive, but because they are not living the adult learner life, they have difficulty empathizing.
So, what is the solution to providing the support that adult learners seek?
Peer mentoring and adult learner support groups are ideal solutions to the need for collegial relationships; however, getting adult learners together in one place to support and encourage each other can be a “Catch-22” situation.
These studentsthey want peer support, but rarely do they have time to fit another regularly scheduled commitment into their busy lives.