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Heather K. Pederson


Mature female students encounter a range of challenges, including stereotype threat, which may affect their persistence in academic programs. Research has been conducted on stereotype threat in adult learners, but little research has been done on the impact of stereotype threat on mature female students in higher education. The purpose of this qualitative study using the experience sampling method (ESM) was to investigate how role conflict and social isolation due to age differences affected the learning experiences of mature female students (ages 45-54). The study used a conceptual framework incorporating Steele and Aronson’s stereotype threat theory and the concept of perceived belonging. The research questions explored participants’ use of time and interactions with others to determine the extent to which they may have experienced role conflict and social isolation due to age differences. Using ESM in conjunction with interval-contingent diaries, the study collected data on 5 mature female students enrolled at a national, for-profit undergraduate institution 5 days per week for 4 weeks. Data were analyzed, codes and categories were developed, and themes were identified according to the research questions and diary prompts. Analysis of themes suggested that participants experienced role conflict, struggled with time management, and often felt overwhelmed and exhausted. The themes also indicated that participants interacted favorably with staff and professors but found themselves in conflict with classmates, often as a result of age differences. This study may lead to the development of interventions that can be used to address the unique, diverse needs of mature female students in higher education.

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