Chapter One Table of Contents

Introduction and Initial Quiz 
Developmental Stages: Impact on Learning
Attributes and Characteristics of Contemporary Learner
Late Adolescence
Mature Learners (Non-Traditional)
Students who are Culturally Diverse
Students with Sensory and Cognitive Disabilities
Differentiation between Undergraduate and Graduate Students 
Commonalities Across Student Sub Cultures: Critical Competencies
Opportunities and Barriers to Achieving Learning Outcomes 
Glossary and References  

Final Quiz 



Arguably, the most vital entity in higher education is the student. In principle this axiom has been forwarded by higher education institutions for many years. Accordingly, criticism and concern persist with respect to the extent to which today’s higher education student is understood and accommodated within higher education.

Education, by and large, is a purchase made by students, parents or guardians through legally enforceable contracts, whether written or oral, whether expressed (make knowingly) or implied (made by actions or expectations). An on-going and increasing awareness of the student and institutional relationship, and implied obligations to each other, should occur.

Furthermore, programs aimed at improving relationships between student and faculty are imperative in this regard as well as a visible sign underscoring the importance of students and their desire for more personal attention. The academic community also must further its research and accountability efforts aimed at assessing the quality of its educational programs. This is an obligation we should not disregard if we are sincere about meeting our primary obligation to our students: to do all that is necessary to provide a total, quality learning experience.

Higher education administration, faculty, staff, trustees and political leaders must share commitment to and actively seek understanding of the student as the central  focus of our institutions of higher learning. This extends to learning about student subcultures and includes developing abilities and skills to respond to their unique and common characteristics, goals and needs. This is particularly important for faculty and other student development educators, as they are the professionals needing to be most responsive to the students on a daily basis. To act on this initiative, through advisement and instruction, it is necessary to know the developmental needs of students’ from the outset.

To date, the research, demographics and observations by experts in the field tell us that we have, and will continue to have, a most diverse student population attending our higher education institutions (see Table 1).

Table 1. Characteristics Relevant to Understanding College Students and Their Needs


Diversity of Background


Race, ethnicity


Socioeconomic origin


Sexual orientation

Older or younger students

Generational Cohorts

Students with disabilities

International students



 Situational Differences


Full-or part-time study

Working while enrolled

Academic program and degree or career objective

Residential or commuter students

Intermittent students

Transfer students

Students with multiple enrollments

Differences by type of institution

Online students

Differences by organization or program affiliation (i.e. Student Athlete)



Source: Komives, S.R., Woodard, D.B. & Associates (2003). Student services: A handbook for the Profession (4th Ed ).

Thus, the need to work more diligently to better understand our students coupled with the reality that teaching, learning, and development occur anywhere has never been more vital to the mission of higher education than today. As such, what happens to the student outside the classroom affects what happens to the student in the classroom. Also, the opposite is true relative to student satisfaction and learning.

The current composition of higher education’s student population has never been more diverse. Future projections are predicted to pose an even greater challenge to higher education instructors charged with the responsibility for facilitating student learning. In today’s universities and colleges we find approximately 16,612,000 students enrolled (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005). Students matriculating in higher education are culturally and linguistically diverse, cognitively able, and socially and politically complex. They represent a cross section or variety of age groups, cultures, career, and living experiences. They are goal oriented, generally pragmatic and more often than not, lead multifaceted lives while matriculating in higher education.

Institutions of higher education give indication of the need for myriad forms or levels of commitment to instructional excellence across the arts and sciences and professionally oriented programs. However, in order for higher education to effectively fulfill its instructional mission, it will need to establish and maintain the instructional competence of its teaching faculty. Put more succinctly, higher education must fully dedicate itself to both improving and advancing its most fundamental function as a developmental-learning environment.

In this regard, clear characterizations of the college student given the expectation that the dynamic teaching-learning process in higher education can be effected in developmental terms, i.e., how changes in students occur and what these changes resemble, higher education administrators, instructors, advisors, and staff need operational understandings concerning the psychological and social processes which foster development and learning of the contemporary higher education student.

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Here is a short self reflection activity to help direct your focus on the content of this chapter. After reading this chapter there will be a follow-up self reflection activity to help determine your understanding concerning contemporary higher education student learners.


______ I am committed to providing an optimal teaching-learning environment for all students enrolled in courses that I instruct at my institution of higher education.

______ I am reasonably knowledgeable about important characteristics of student sub-cultures  at my college or university.

______ I can explain the instructional implications of important characteristics of student sub-cultures at my college or university.

______ I am sufficiently prepared to select or formulate appropriate instruction and learning  strategies based upon the characteristics of student sub cultures at my college or university.

______ I would like to further examine important characteristics of student sub-cultures and their implications for instruction and learning in higher education


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A brief examination of the developmental stages of higher education students can provide valuable insight into the changing patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving of students we find in our nation’s colleges and universities. Through careful reflection of what we know about the developmental attributes of students, higher education instructors can establish a baseline from which to select or formulate the learning experiences and outcomes for all higher education students.

Several perspectives are salient in forming operational understandings of higher education student development. Chickering (1993) offers several questions for consideration pertaining to the predictability of stages that mark developmental shifts in student development:  “Are they sequential, invariant, and irreversible? Are some developmental tasks prerequisites for others? Are there basic differences between males and females, either in the process of development or in the content of their thoughts, feelings, and values? Are there differences based on ethnic background, sexual orientation, or age?” (p. 6)

While there may be no single or best answer to these questions, we can perhaps gain valuable insight into the developmental make-up of the higher education student through ongoing reflection of each question. Several theories addressing student development may prove helpful in this regard.


Cognitive theories offer illuminating perspectives concerning the intellectual development or thinking processes of our students. Jean Piaget (1932) offers a two dimensional model of cognitive development. One dimension asserts that student learners possess intellectual capabilities that range from a concrete view of the world to the ability to form abstract ideas. The second dimension is characterized as an egocentric, active model which extends to a reflective, internalized way of knowing (Kolb, 1981; Chickering, 1993).  Piaget’s long respected work on intellectual development provides insight into three fundamental principles: cognitive structures, developmental sequences and environmental interactions. Cognitive structures form in students to enable them to make sense of experience. These structures provide the frames of reference needed to interpret the meaning of events, for choosing behavior, and solving problems. Developmental sequences are manifested in relation to the increasing sophistication of the cognitive structures that have evolved. Accordingly, one level of thinking opens the way for the next, which is more useful than the prior one. This process fosters a transitional shift to the next, more complex stage, and once attained, expands and integrates gradually within the stage. Interaction of students with the environment presents challenges or new information which leads to intellectual disequilibrium and emergence of new accommodations or alterations of the cognitive structures.

By and large, faculty in higher education can make effective use of Piaget’s cognitive development principles by adopting an perspective toward instruction that gives consideration to student cognitive structures, developmental sequences, and interaction with the environment. This entails taking into account variant student life experience, or lack thereof, in relation to subject matter content and skill areas.

Facilitating the formation of cognitive structures that systematically advance in complexity (developmental sequence); and applicability and generalizability (interaction with the environment) can be achieved through instructional practices that are guided by Piaget’s theory.

Perry (1970) and his associates distinguish how intellectual and ethical development continues during young adulthood. Their model provides a useful means for conceptualizing intellectual development from a perspective of changing frames of reference for interpreting reality. Nine positions comprising this model characterize shifts from dualistic thinking to developing tolerance and mature interpersonal relationships. For example, acceptance of others’ interpretations and values represent a liberalizing or humanizing transformation which enables students to critically examine values and beliefs in light of evidence and experience. New levels of integration occur when students make active choices concerning how they will live out their values while continuing to search for meaning and congruence.

Chickering’s (1993) model of development, referred to as the Seven Vectors, takes into account the variant ages of today’s higher education students and complex processes. The seven vectors can be helpful in determining current and projected student developmental status including intellectual, emotional, interpersonal, and ethical development. Movement along any single vector can occur at different rates. Each step brings more awareness, skill confidence, complexity, stability, and integration. The vectors describe the routes to individuation which include: 1.) Developing Competence; 2.) Managing Emotions; 3.) Moving Through Autonomy Toward Independence; 4.) Developing Mature Interpersonal Relationships; 5.) Establishing Identity; 6.) Developing Purpose; and 7.) Developing Integrity.

Particularly important vectors pertaining to the student in higher education are those associated with Developing Purpose and Developing Integrity. “Developing purpose can be characterized as an increasing ability to be intentional, to assess interests and options, to clarify goals, to make plans, and to persist despite obstacles.” (Chickering, 1993, p. 209) “Developing integrity involves reviewing personal values in an inquiring environment that emphasizes diversity, critical thinking, the use of evidence, and experimentation. It may involve an affirmation of values that have ongoing relevance, a search for new ways to interpret complex realities and reconcile discordant perspectives, or a substantive shift away from old values.” (Chickering, 1993, p. 235)


The work and influence of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky on education theory, research and practice holds vast potential for improving our understanding of the learning processes for all learners, including those in higher education, as well as a basis for selecting or devising instructional approaches. Vygotsky’s principal body of scholarly work is concerned with the cultural historical theory of psychological development or development of the personality (Davydov, 1995).

In Vygotsky’s view personality development takes place during a child’s early     upbringing and teaching. Its historical character, content, and form are particularly     essential features of this process which occurs during changes in the social situations of a person’s life, or during changes in the types and kinds of personal activity under-            taken. In effect, the basic form for carrying out an activity is in joint-collective enact-       ment by a group of people through their social interaction. The manner in which an    individual carries out activity is the result of internalizing its basic form. This process            is characterized by the use of systems of signs and symbols (language/communication),        devised through the history of human culture. Thus, an individual’s assimilation of             historical values of material and spiritual culture takes place through carrying                   out activity in collaboration with other people. In effect, it is Vygotsky’s contention that            individual consciousness is determined by the activity of the collective subject. (P. 15)

Students in higher education are likely to continue to acquire new historical values of material and spiritual culture as well as expand and refine those they have assimilated during their preceding informal and formal learning activities. In order to nourish this process, students must be afforded a multitude and variety of opportunities to interact with one another throughout their formal and informal learning experiences in higher education.


Higher education students can and do benefit from carefully designed instruction employing strategies that include reinforcement and rewards. Drawing from the rudimentary principles underlying functional or applied behavior analysis will be invaluable to the higher education instructor. This empirically supported model provides clear demonstration that environmental conditions, i.e. the context within which instruction takes place exerts significant influence on student learning. More specifically, student learning can be enhanced through the thoughtful organizaton of instruction including employment of positive and negative reinforcers (Alberto and Troutman, 1982).

Suffice it to say, the effective higher education instructor will approach the teaching-learning situation with understanding concerning the characteristic developmental and learning stages of higher education students including thinking, learning, feeling, and behavioral attributes and processes. Throughout this volume strategies and corresponding instructional considerations will be derived from or linked to theories and models of student development and learning.

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Students attending universities throughout the United States are classified in many different ways and for many different purposes. The following discussion uses a classification of categories based upon several key demographic variables. The overwhelming majority of students enter universities immediately following secondary education programs.

They are most often referred to as traditional students or students at the developmental stage of late adolescence. Another critical mass of students is characterized as “non traditional” or” mature learners.” This group of students is typically made up of individuals who have elected to seek higher education degrees following post secondary full-time employment and, for the most part, individuals who have delayed higher education to rear families. This group presents a diverse chronological age range from mid -twenties to mid- forties.

Within the categories of traditional/late adolescence students and non-traditional students are several distinct classifications of students that have become increasingly more prominent in higher education. These students are characterized as culturally and linguistically diverse and sensorily and cognitively disabled.



I’m Dan and I am just completing my junior year in college. My overall  adjustment to college life has been somewhat “bumpy” to say the least. Having attended a highly structured high school I wasn’t prepared for the open and loosely structured environment I found in college. Moving away from home and living with others made it difficult for me to manage both my time and energy. At times I opted for the “good time” rather than make the social sacrifice in order to get started on course assignments.Furthermore, it has been necessary for me to hold a part time job through my first three-years of college. While I enjoy and feel that I am benefiting from the courses that I have taken, I seldom feel that I am able to give every- thing that I can to reading, assignments or class activities that are required.I rarely have time to discuss ideas with my classmates outside of class although I did collaborate with another student on several projects related to one course Although I had some difficulty finding mutually convenient times to meet, those were stimulating experiences for me and something I hope will be encouraged more in courses that I take during my senior year.


Dr. Universal has been a college professor for seven-years and offers the following reflection about higher education students:

Each year my thinking about the make up of the “typical” student in higher education changes to some extent. Perhaps most noteworthy is that each year students appear to be younger and younger or developmentally more naive.Closer analysis of this phenomenon has led me to conclude that this is in part a dynamic of my corresponding year-to-year aging process. That is, as I add another year to my age each succeeding year most of my students typically remain the same age. Given the average age of the younger group, it is also possible that this group is less committed to study and more committed to other activities such as developing a social life or gaining independence generally as young adults.


Students attending universities throughout the United States are classified in many different ways and for many different purposes. The following discussion uses a classification of categories based upon several key demographic variables. The overwhelming majority of students enter universities immediately following secondary education programs. They are most often referred to as “traditional students” or “students at the developmental stage of late adolescence.” Another critical mass of students is characterized as “non traditional” or ”mature learners.” This group of students is typically made up of individuals who have elected to seek higher education degrees following post secondary full-time employment and, for the most part, individuals who have delayed higher education to rear families. This group presents a diverse chronological age range from mid-twenties to mid-forties.

Within the categories of traditional/late adolescence students and non-traditional students are several distinct classifications of students that have become increasingly more prominent in higher education. These students are characterized as culturally and linguistically diverse and sensorily and cognitively disabled.  

Students at the developmental stage of late adolescence are likely to share the following characteristics (Levine & Cureton, 1998; Astin, 1993):



Renee and Nancy are nontraditional college students.

As nontraditional students, we place more value on our college education.There are many factors that contribute to our premise. We have children that demand much time and attention. Responsibilities with the home require many hours of unconditional devotion. Our children have time schedules that need to be met, homework that needs to be checked, school functions that require our participation, and everyday discipline. We are the sole homemakers with all the responsibilities of the maintenance and livelihood of our homes and children. Employment outside the home is a necessity that enables us to provide income for family survival responsibilities and college tuition. Stress from our jobs, home responsibilities and college demands become significant aspects of our every day lives. Throughout our higher education experiences, we have put countless hours into our families, education, and employment. We push ourselves as college students to attain the highest achievement possible. Thus, extending ourselves beyond the limit of physical and mental exhaustion. Time becomes precious and is utilized to the best extent possible. Our education has become more meaningful and we place high priority on our success as students. Therefore  we can provide a better future for not only ourselves, but for our children.


Approximately 27 % (3,593,258) of all undergraduate students (13,369,000) enrolled in college range in age from 25 to 55 and older. Nearly 27 % of all undergraduate students enrolled full-time in two-year colleges range in age from 25 to 55 and older, and   51 % in this age range is enrolled part-time. Full-Time enrollment of this age range in four-year colleges is approximately 13 % and part – time enrollment is 62 % (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005).

Men ranging in age from 25 to 55 and older comprise 36 % and women 40 % of all undergraduate enrolled students (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005).

It is interesting to note that women in the 40 to 49 age range constitute 39% of all women undergraduate students enrolled in college. Full-Time men in the age range 25 to 55 and older constitute 16 % of the college undergraduate enrollment while 55 % of all undergraduate men in this age range are Part-Time students. Full-Time women in the age range 25 to 55 and older constitute 23 % of all Full-Time women undergraduate students, while 58 % are enrolled Part-Time within this age range (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005).

There is every indication that the non-traditional, older, or mature age student population will continue to grow in future years both in terms of absolute numbers and proportion of the total tertiary student population. Returning to study after raising a family continues to be a popular and increasingly, necessary step in obtaining employment in a rapidly advancing and changing work place. Postgraduate qualifications are also increasingly expected by employers in many areas (Devlin, 1996).

Mature aged students exhibit characteristics that differ from younger students in a number of important ways. There is much anecdotal evidence from academic staff, learning support staff and students that mature age students study differently compared with younger students. Student age has been found to be a factor in study success. Comparing older and younger students, Hong (1982) reported a higher level of study habits and skills and motivation amongst older students in Australia. In a similar comparison, Owens (1989) reported that a higher proportion of older students achieved successful course completion.

Devlin’s (1996) study yielded the following results:

Mature age students reported themselves, on average, to be (a) better time managers,                            (b) less anxious about study, (c) better able to concentrate, (d) better able to process                                  information, (e) better able to select important ideas from a topic area, (f) more likely to                                 evaluate their own level of understanding of a topic and (g) more knowledgeable of                                    effective examination strategies. Further, although the differences failed to reach the                            criteria of statistical significance, mature age students also reported themselves to have                           more favorable attitudes towards and higher motivation to study and to use study aids                                  more frequently and effectively than their younger counterparts. (p. 57)

At the same time, mature age students reported that they worked an average of 24.6                               hours per week outside study. This was 13.7 hours more than the average for the                                  younger student group. Perhaps the mature age students’ better general use of learning                           and study skills was a matter of organizational necessity as much as the there reasons                                    suggested earlier. (p. 57)

In summary, mature/non traditional learners generally project the following characteristic qualities:


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My name is Kiwi. My family came to the United States from South America when I was eight-years old. For the most part, my transitions into public schools within a large urban school district were relatively free of major problems.I do feel that I was encouraged and prepared to pursue a college education and degree. However, upon completion of high school my decision to attend college was extremely difficult for my family largely because I chose to leave home and live in another part of the state.I entered college not having a firm choice about a future occupational career.During my first two-years of college I gave a great deal of time and energy to my friends and various social activities. I also had to work part-time in order to help defray some of my tuition fees and living expenses. It seemed like I was always compromising myself, e.g., being late or rushing to complete assignments, not spending adequate time studying for examinations, not               developing a network of study partners or friends in my classes, not becoming active in student professionalizing organizations, and not taking advantage of the many intellectually and culturally enriching activities offered on campus.Frankly, I just wasn’t in the “loop.”  Now that I have entered my junior year and have finally made a career choice, I feel much more directed and focused. I seem to be better able to establish priorities and manage my time. The content of my courses has become far more interesting and meaningful because I now see relationships to my life                 beyond college as well as my future career.Coming from a large urban high school I wasn’t sure that I would ever attend college. No one in my family ever completed college and it wasn’t a topic  was discussed seriously throughout my high school years. In fact, none of my older brothers and sisters encouraged me to think about going on to college.Fortunately, I was identified by one of my high school teachers as someone with the potential to benefit from a college education. Subsequently, I received advisement from that teacher and a school counselor about the college selection and application process. Now that I have completed what has been an exciting but very challenging freshman year at college, I feel that I know myself much better. While I made many new friends at college, I tended to spend a great deal of time with students who shared many of my cultural traits and values.Many of us lived on campus in the college dorms and did many things together.While I enjoyed these social interactions, I now feel that my base of friends wasn’t as diverse as it could have been.Concerning my academic life during the past year, I received a great deal of help and support through various programs that were available to me. However, I had a very difficult time establishing priorities, organizing and managing my time, note-taking in class, studying for examinations, preparing written projects, and generally   establishing a routine for getting everything done on time. I really think that I learned  a lot this past year about what it takes to be a successful college student. I feel sure that the confidence that I have developed in my capabilities as a result of the problems   I had to deal with during my freshman year will only make me a better student in my remaining years of college.




It is not surprising that institutions in the United States continue to reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity that characterizes society in the main. In a larger sense, the increasingly encouraging numbers of previously underrepresented racial and ethnic groups now matriculating in higher education gives evidence of receptivity and accommodation by colleges and universities to students who are culturally and linguistically diverse. Data concerning racial and ethnic enrollment in United States institutions of higher education was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac (2005).


Colleges and universities are educating an increasingly diverse student

body and are preparing them for living in and contributing to a global

society. Many institutions of higher education are striving to be considered

inclusive by all students by demonstrating their commitment to diversity on

their campuses. Counselors in high schools, working in conjunction with

college admission officers, can help minority students move through the

college choice process and select institutions of higher education that

value diversity. It is up to university leaders to make sure that the campus

environment is as welcoming to minority students of color once they

matriculate as it appeared to be at the time of admission. (Elam & Brown,

2005, p.17 )


According to recent data published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (2005) illustrates the percentages and numbers of college enrollment by racial and ethnic groups in Table 2.



Table 2. College Enrollment by Racial and Ethnic Group (2002)

Enrollment %                   Number Enrolled

American Indian             1.0                                165,900

Asian                            7.0                             1,074,200

Black, non-Hispanic      12.0                             1,978,700

White, non-Hispanic      68.0                             11,140,200

Hispanic                      10.0                              1,661,700

Foreign                           4.0                                   590,900

Total Enrollment         100.00                           16,611,600

Proportion who speak a language other than English at home 13.8

It also important to note that International Students are now matriculating at U.S. colleges at increased rates. During the academic year 2002, 590,000 foreign students were enrolled in U.S. colleges. In 2000 and 2001, 528,000 and 565,000 foreign students respectively were enrolled in U.S. Colleges. In 2002, undergraduate foreign students numbered 316,000; graduate foreign students numbered 266,000; and professional students numbered 8,300. (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005)

Minorities in Higher Education

It was reported by the National Association of College Admissions (2005) that a greater proportion of minority students are enrolling in college than they were a decade ago. However, the attendance rate for students of color still lags behind the rate for White students. The Higher Education Twenty-first Annual Status Report (2005) indicates that between 1991-2001, minorities student enrollment rose to more than 4.3 million from 1.5 million, or an increase of 52 percent.

Another notable finding concerns the number of students of “unknown” race or ethnicity; including students who choose not to report their race or ethnicity to their institutions. This doubled to 938,000 from about 468,000 between 1991 and 2001.

Other findings indicate that college enrollment among Hispanics led all racial/ethnic groups, up 75 percent to more than 1.4 million students. The largest growth occurred at two-year institutions, where Hispanic enrollment grew by 82 percent, compared with a 68 percent increase at four-year institutions. Further, the gender gap continued, with Hispanic women exceeding Hispanic men in enrollment.

African-American enrollment grew to nearly 1.8 million students between 1991 – 2001, a 37 percent increase. Asian-American enrollment increased to more than 937,000 during the same time period, up 54 percent. American Indians enrollment grew by 35 percent, up from 110,000 to nearly 150,000.

Finally, college persistence rates among students who started their postsecondary education at four-year institutions rose from 51 percent to 54 percent during the time period, 1994 – 2000. Asian-American students had the highest rate of attaining a bachelor’s degree (62 percent) with five-years, followed by White students (58 percent). By comparison, 42 percent of Hispanics and 36.4 percent of African-Americans attained their degrees during the same period.




Susan, a college student entering her senior year as a major in special education describes her views of education and herself in the following way:

Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself,” said John Dewey.                       I have endeavored to learn from all of the experiences in my life, both good                  and not so good. Maintaining a positive attitude has been the key to my                         success in the world of academia. This anonymous saying is posted conspicuously   in my home, “I am convinced that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I react             to it….we are in charge of our attitudes. Overcoming the attitudinal barriers of others       towards students with disabilities has been a constant battle. A professor or teacher at             any level needs to be able to look beyond the disability to discover the ability. Don’t make       instant assessments, and be misled by visual impressions. The gray hair, cane, leg   brace, and electric scooter, have led many professors to wonder why I am “taking up      space” in their classroom (not audibly of course, but facial expressions and body         language tell their story). With further assessment, they discover that physical disability          does not necessarily equate with mental disability.

Viewing education from the perspective of a wife, mother and grandmother in                        her mid-fifties, gives me a wealth of experience concerning diverse people and events    from which to draw. Regardless of the activity, whether it occurs in the academic,         recreation/leisure, vocational, or self-management/home living domain, you get out of the         activity what you put into it. After working almost twenty-years for General Motors, I             viewed the diagnosis and deterioration of my physical abilities, as an opportunity to        pursue a degree in special education. I hope to be able to draw on my learning        experience to positively affect children with learning disabilities. How do I learn? The hard      way! My computer (brain), children love that analogy, by the way–they relate to it well,   processes information more slowly than the newer models. I highlight the text, take notes            in class, and refer back to the text or related materials, for additional information ( I have         a passion for reading).                                                                                                                   Observing, followed by “hands on experience” was a tremendous asset in learning to           teach the language arts, and also mathematics, science, and social studies in the        elementary schools (part of the class time was spent in a professional develop-              ment class at the elementary school, and part was spent in the classroom with       children, putting into practice what we had learned).Writing information out on paper that I   have difficulty remembering, is another learning technique I incorporated. A psychology       professor once told me that when you involve motor skills, such as writing or reading             aloud, you etch a pathway in your brain’s memory banks-it works for me! Cooperative     learning is effective when my partner is focused and motivated. You really need to be on      the same wave length for it to be successful. I have had some really productive            brainstorming sessions with my cooperating teachers.                                                                      Deriving all possible benefit from any course I pursue is one of my goals (I want       to get my money’s worth). Far too many college students are doing just enough to        “get by.” I have been endowed with the old fashioned fundamental values of working            hard, doing the job/assignment right, and discharging my commitments and          responsibilities to the fullest extent of my ability. Many good professors and teachers     have stimulated the cognitive process, and provided additional motivation for me to   continue striving toward my goal.


There has been a significant increase in the number and percentage of college students with disabilities. In 1978, the first year disability-related data on college students were reported in American Freshman: National Norms, 2.6 percent of full-time, first-time freshmen indicated that they had a disability. Most recently, in 1991, 8.89 percent of college reported a disability. Of the 1991 freshmen with disabilities, one quarter of them (35,000) reported having a learning disability, it is likely that many more entering freshmen had a learning disability but chose not to report it.( p. v, Peterson’s Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities).

A combination of factors has led to the increase in the number of college learning disability services and program as well as a dramatic increase in the number of students seeking such programs. In the mid-1970s two significant pieces of legislation became law: the Education of the Handicapped Act (now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act-IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, followed by the 1977 regulation implementing Section 504 of that Act. Together they reflected Americans’ concern about including people with disabilities in regular education (and other federally funded activities) and led to the changes necessary in those programs so that these people, including those with learning disabilities, could participate.

These concerns were further validated with the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990/ ADA has also had the effect of raising the awareness of educational institutions about their responsibilities to people with disabilities, and that has renewed access activity on many campuses. In addition, at both the secondary and postsecondary level educators have increased efforts to teach students with disabilities-including those with learning disabilities–self-advocacy skills, which has heightened their self-determination. Such skills have emboldened students to come forward and request disability-specific accommodations and may account for the increasing number of students who self-identify.

Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage (From Federal Register, 1977, December 29, p. 65083)


In a publication designed to assist students with learning disabilities who are interested in attending college, Iannuzzi, Strichart  & Mangrum (1994) present a list of problem areas experienced by this population of students. However, the reader is cautioned that “no one college student with a learning disability will have all the characteristics.” p. 4

The problem areas are classified in seven major categories: cognition, language, perceptual and motor skills, academic work, work and study habits, social skills, and emotional development.

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Additional descriptions of challenges, difficulties and needs often experienced by students with cognitive/learning disabilities:


“Most researchers and practitioners agree that self-concept is a powerful mediator between educational treatment and outcome variables (Marsh, 1990). For example, it has been shown that students with high self-efficacy performed at a high level, even exceeding their own self-expectations and were unaffected by most external conditions, while those who doubt their abilities generally did poorly. The latter group performed somewhat better in structured, well-defined situations which provided an opportunity for goal-setting and planning beforehand and feedback afterward (Tuckman & Sexton, 1992). Also, low self-esteem individuals have been shown to have more adverse affective, cognitive, and behavioral reactions to failure and negative feedback.” (Geisler-Bernstein, E., Schmeck, R.R., & Hetherington, J., p. 78)

Sensory Disabilities:

Instructors are encouraged to facilitate full participation of students by opening each course with a general statement on caring about students’ individual needs and inviting students to speak with them about these as well as inserting statements about alternative formats and practices in the syllabus for each course (McKeachie, 1999).

Provide opportunities for students to collaborate on class projects and assignments while clearly delineating the need for equal division of labor required by project.

Adapt or modify teaching methods utilizing more than one student learning modality (e.g. visual, auditory and kinesthesia) through the use of audio-visual materials during presentations, colorful highlighting of important content, technology applications, etc.

Cognitive/Learning Disabilities

Encourage students to access academic support services provided by the respective college.

Reinforce study and organizational skills through periodic discussions of how or what techniques students utilize (Iannuzzi, Strichart & Mangrum, 1994)

Need for increased study and work habits that will foster ability to balance academic demands with the need for personal freedom and relationship building as young adults (Hicks-Cooley & Kurtz, 1997; Strichart, Mangrum, and Iannuzzi, 1997).

Periodically model or provide examples of effective note taking via power point presentations or overhead projector.

Utilize guided notes (skeleton outlines that contain the main ideas and related concepts of a lecture) which include designated spaces for students to complete as the lecture/presentation occurs (Lazarus, 1996).


According to The Chronicle of Higher Education (2005) the overall number of students enrolled at the undergraduate and graduate level is 16, 637,000.

The number of undergraduate students enrolled full-time at two-year institutions is reported at 2,563,000. Part-time students at two-year institutions number 1,821,000.Undergraduate enrollment at four-year institutions for full-time students is reported at 7,305,000 while part-time student enrollment is reported at 1,680,000.

Enrollment of males at the undergraduate level is reported at 1,782, 000 (1,055,000 full-time and 727,000 part-time) in two-year institutions while 4,120,000 (3,421,000 full-time and 699,000 part-time) males are enrolled in four-year institutions.

Enrollment of females at the undergraduate level is reported at 2,692,000 (1,507,000 full-time and 1,095,000 part-time) in two-year institutions while 4,866,000 (3,884,000 full-time and 982,000 part-time) females are enrolled in four-year institutions.

The overall number of students reported as enrolled in graduate programs is 3,308,000 (1,622,000 full-time and 1,646,000 part-time). Male students enrolled in graduate programs number 1, 416, 000 (773,000 full-time and 643,000 part-time). Female students enrolled in graduate programs number 1,852,000 (849,000 full-time and 1,003,000 part-time).



While there is growing concern directed to student diversity it shouldn’t be limited to race, gender, or age related characteristics but include attention to individual differences in intellectual and affective functioning. In order to understand differences in the ways students approach learning, it is important to view students not only as learners but as individuals with a range of abilities, motivations, beliefs regarding competence, habits of thinking, and learning and personality characteristics.

Geisler-Bernstein, et al, (1996) offer the following:

Looking at individual differences in “cognitive” or “learning styles” (Messick 1994;           Sternberg 1994; Jonassen & Grabowski 1993), “preferred ways of learning” (Biggs 1993) or “dispositions” (Ennis 1987) reflected in different “approaches” or “orientations” (Entwistle & Ramsden 1983 or “conceptions of learning” (Beaty, et al. 1990) is a valid and        necessary enterprise providing valuable information for those interested in how and why students learn and in counseling students to improve their learning. (p. 89)

While Students should be encouraged to capitalize on their preferred way of learning, they also need to be encouraged not to neglect non-preferred processes.

Sylistic awareness also has developmental implications. Ideally, as students mature, they will devise ways of compensating for weaknesses (for example, low structure individuals can use detailed lists to help them structure activities). Preferably, instructors should assist students in broadening their strategic repertoire. (Geisler-Bernstein, et al, 1996, p. 90)

The results of the comprehensive studies of college freshmen and college student developmental characteristics and developmental influences (Astin, et al 1997; Astin and Astin, et al 1993 & 1997; Sax, et al 1997) reveal a range of interesting considerations including the following:

Academic Engagement of College Freshmen

Thirty-seven percent (37%) reported boredom with class in 1997 compared with 30% in 1987; 35% overslept and missed class or appointment in 1997 compared with 30 % in 1987; and 35 % studied or did homework six or more hours per week in 1997 compared with 45 % in 1987.

The Life Goals of College Freshmen

Seventy- four percent (74 %) indicate that their goal is to be very well off financially as compared with 43% who desire to develop a meaningful philosophy of life.

Political Disengagement:

Fourteen percent (14 %) discuss politics and 26 % are committed to keeping up with politics. On the other hand some 74 % volunteered in social or politically oriented activities.

Health trends:

Fifty-two (52%) to 56 % report drinking wine, liquor or beer; 16 % smoke cigarettes frequently

Role of Gender:

It is reported that 72 % or women are concerned about their ability to pay for college as compared with 60 % of the men. Forty-five percent (45 %) of the women expect to get a job to pay for college as compared with 35 % of the men.

College Student Characteristics and Developmental Influences 

Students change during college in that they become more:

On the other hand students become less:

Environments/Experiences that Enhance Student Development

Post Chapter Self-Assessment Quiz

Here is a short assessment quiz to help direct your focus on the content of this chapter. After reading this chapter the post chapter self-assessment quiz re-focuses your understanding concerning contemporary higher education learners.


______ I am more committed to providing an optimal learning and teaching environment for all students enrolled in courses that I conduct at my institution of higher education.

______ I feel more knowledgeable about important characteristics of student sub-cultures comprising my college or university.

______ I can better explain the instructional implications of important characteristics of student sub-cultures comprising my college or university.

______ I can select or formulate better learning and instruction strategies that correspond with the implications drawn from the characteristics of student sub cultures.

______ I would like to further examine important characteristics of student sub-cultures and implications these have for learning and instruction in higher education.

Glossary and References for Chapter One

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(Beaty, E., Dal’ Alba, G & Marton, F. ( 1990). Conception of learning. International Journal of       Educational Research, 13, 12-34.

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Entwistle, N., & Ramsden, P. (1983). Understanding student learning. London: Croom Helm


Evans, N.J; Forney, D.S. & DiBrito, F.G. (1998). Student Development in College: Theory,           Research, and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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Sax, L. J. , Astin, A. W., Korn, W. S. & Mahoney, K. M. (1997). The American freshman;  National norms for fall 1887. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute. UCLA.

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