Voices from the summit: Ways, work, and experiences of mature women graduate, post-graduate, and doctoral students

Edith Lynne Hilton

Abstract

Many mature women return to school to accomplish educational goals established to ensure their financial ability to maintain their standard of living during retirement. Long considered non-traditional students, mature and middle-aged women comprise a large and varied group. Their ages may span more than four decades and they are changing the nature of America's workforce. They currently comprise nearly fifty percent of the available labor pool. It is reasonable to expect that mature women will increasingly emphasize graduate degrees to enhance employment opportunities and enable career changes and will utilize higher education as a means to achieve their financial and career goals. Historically women make changes in their lives through education. Mature women encounter challenges and obstacles not experienced by traditional graduate students. It is important and timely to study their explicit experiences that serve to illuminate an increasing group of college students. The purpose of the study was to illuminate meanings of graduate study to mature women and to contextually apprehend experiential phenomena. The sample was recruited from the community and consisted of seven women who had completed or nearly completed graduate, post-graduate or doctoral study. The research method was hermeneutic phenomenology. Data analysis revealed the following findings of the study: an overarching theme of dreaming the big dream. Four essential sub-themes were discovered including striving for excellence, struggling to keep all the balls in the air: the juggling act, the wolf at the educational door, middle-age women doing the work of young women, and voices from the summit. Recommendations for future research include investigation into educational experiences of marginalized populations including ethnic and minority women and those with physical and psychological challenges.