The Effects of Adult Undergraduate Engagement on Self-Reported Learning Gains at Catholic Postsecondary Institutions

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Administration


Advisor: Mary Ziskin


As fewer recent high school graduates apply to four-year colleges, Catholic postsecondary institutions like other types of higher education institutions will need to expand their reach into new or previously under-realized markets by recruiting a more diverse pool of potential undergraduate students, including those who are considered adult learners. Understanding how adult learners engage with peers, faculty, and the Catholic postsecondary environment is a critical step in expanding outreach to potential adult students. Using data from the 2019 administration of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Senior Survey, this quantitative ex post facto correlational study sought to determine whether and how levels of engagement in educationally purposeful activities predict self-reported learning gains among adult undergraduates at Catholic postsecondary institutions. Results showed that adult learners hold many characteristics distinguishing them from younger peers and that they engage differently with faculty, peers, and the college environment. Regression analyses showed that certain engagement indicators may predict self-reported learning gains in solving complex real-world problems, interacting with individuals from backgrounds different than one’s own, and gaining work-related knowledge or skills. Scholars and practitioners at Catholic postsecondary institutions should consider these findings as they seek ways to recruit and educate adult learners from diverse backgrounds.


adult learners, adult learner engagement, student engagement, self-reported learning gains, Catholic higher education, postsecondary education, National Survey of Student Engagement

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