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A Mixed Methods Approach to Examine Factors Affecting College Students' Time to Degree


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With increasing tuition and accountability compounded by decreased funding, institutions face pressure to demonstrate higher graduation rates while decreasing time to degree. This study employs a …

With increasing tuition and accountability compounded by decreased funding, institutions face pressure to demonstrate higher graduation rates while decreasing time to degree. This study employs a mixed methods approach to determine factors affecting time to degree from the student perspective. Using a grounded theory approach, factors influencing time to degree were examined: curriculum length, academic planning and choice, student accountability, personal experience and preference, finance, facilitators, and procedures and scheduling.

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  • 1. Presenters: Pat Estes, Assessment Analyst, Liang Hou, Research Intern, Edgewood College Office of Institutional Assessment and Research
  • 2. This research was conducted under thesupervision of Dr. Yang Zhang, previousDirector of Institutional Research atEdgewood College.She can be contacted at:Dr. Yang ZhangDirector of Institutional ResearchManoa Institutional Research OfficeOffice of the Vice Chancellor for Academic AffairsUniversity of Hawaii at 2
  • 3. Overview1. Background2. Literature review3. Purpose of study4. Methodology5. Data analysis and results6. Recommendations and conclusions7. Discussion 3
  • 4. Background – Edgewood College Founded in 1881 by the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa Located in Madison, WI Total enrollment is around 2,700, with 2,000 undergraduates and 700 master and Ed.D. students Majors: Liberal Arts and Professional degree programs (i.e., Education, business, nursing) Edgewood College is accredited by Higher Learning Commission since 1958 4
  • 5. 10 Year Average EdgewoodCollege (EC) Graduation Rates 4-year graduation rate – 29%  2012: 36% 5-year graduation rate – 48%  2012: 53% 6-year graduation rate – 51%  2012: 53% 5
  • 6. 100.0% EC vs. HLC Peers = 4 Yr Grad90.0%80.0% 2010 4-year Graduation rate70.0%60.0%50.0%40.0%30.0%20.0% 10.0% 0.0% Retrieved from College Results Online 6
  • 7. Recommended Goals 4-year graduation rate – 50% (+21%) 5-year graduation rate – 62% (+14%) 6-year graduation rate – 66% (+15%) 7
  • 8. Problem Statement College tuition Federal and state funding Accountability Pressure to improve graduation rates/time to degree 8
  • 9. Importance of Graduation Ratesand Time to Degree Living out our mission & our promise Graduation rate – common measure of success Less time = less debt + more income Happy alumni! 9
  • 10. Literature Review Student Characteristics Institutional Characteristics Academic factors (e.g., academic Institutional effectiveness (i.e., performance, Choice of major/field of supportive academic and social study, changing majors, taking environments) remedial courses, study abroad) Pre-college factors (e.g., student scores Institutional type (e.g., 4-year, non- on college-admission tests SAT and profit, religious) ACT, HSGPA, AP credits) Family background (e.g., low SES, first Percentage of low-income students on generation) campus Personal life (e.g., working, living off- Institutional size and college selectivity campus, marriage) Demographics (e.g., gender and race) Financial aid and cost of tuitionFor an extensive literature review, refer to Desjardins, Kim, & Rzonca (2003); Knight (1994, 2002, 2004); Burns(2010), & Kuh, Kinzie, & Buckley (2006) 10
  • 11. So What Is the Solution? 11
  • 12. Purpose of Current Research Studies that examine factors impacting college students’ time to degree from the students’ perspective are limited Typically relied on quantitative methodology Our study deploys quantitative AND qualitative methodologies 12
  • 13. Research Questions1. Do students graduate within a timeframe they are satisfied with?2. What factors help or hinder timely graduation?3. What steps can be taken to decrease time to degree? 13
  • 14. Methodology Data collected Spring 2012 Small mid-west liberal arts college Online survey distributed via Qualtrics All senior students expecting to graduate in Spring or Summer 2012 62% response rate (162 / 263 students) 14
  • 15. When you began at Edgewood, within what timeframe didyou expect to graduate? “Within 1 year” through “More than 6 years”How long did it actually take you to graduate from EdgewoodCollege since you began here? “Within 1 year” through “More than 6 years”How satisfied are you with the length of time it took you tocomplete your degree? “Very Satisfied” through “Very Dissatisfied” (5-point Likertscale)Please comment on those factors that helped you to graduateon time and/or the barriers you experienced to a timelygraduation. Open-ended 15
  • 16. Quantitative Analysis - Gap Analysis  8% graduated one or two years earlier than expected  72% graduated within expected time frame  15% took one year longer than expected  4% took two years longer than expected  Only 1% graduated in three years or longer than expected 16
  • 17. Quantitative Analysis -Satisfaction All Respondents  83% combined satisfaction rate  46% “very satisfied” and 37% “satisfied”  Mean = 4.22 (on 5-point scale) Started at Edgewood  M = 4.26 Transfer  M = 4.18 Compared to 80% of students who graduated in their expected time frame, a higher satisfaction rate of 83% was found in students’ responses. 17
  • 18. Gap * Satisfaction Crosstabulation Satisfaction Very Very Satisfied Satisfied Neutral Dissatisfied Dissatisfied Total % of -2 Total 0% 1% 0% 0% 0% 1% % of -1 Total 6% 1% 0% 0% 0% 7% % of 0 Total 41% 26% 5% 1% 0% 72%Gap % of 1 Total 0% 9% 5% 2% 0% 15% % of 2 Total 0% 1% 1% 2% 1% 4% % of 3 Total 0% 0% 0% 1% 1% 1% % of Total Total 46% 37% 10% 5% 1% 100% 18
  • 19. Qualitative Analysis Procedure Grounded theory  Generate or discover a theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967) Grounded theory defined as:  The discovery of theory from data systematically obtained from social research’ (Glaser and Strauss 1967: 2) 19
  • 20. Data Coding Procedures1. Preview all responses and record emerging indicators. Continued to add new indicators, until eventually the indicators become saturated and no new ones could be formed.2. Compared indicators. Consistent and similar ones were combined into themes. Similar themes were used to form factors. Themes that could not be combined with other themes were considered independent factors.3. Built a coding book that includes indicators, themes, and factors. Assigned a code to each indicator. 20
  • 21. Data Coding and Factor Generating Cont’4. Used the coding book to code short narrative responses into the SPSS data file. Note: A response may include multiple indicators. In this way, qualitative data of students’ short narrative responses are converted into quantitative data and are ready for quantitative analysis.5. Re-read and recoded responses to make sure no new indicators emerged.6. Used SPSS to generate frequencies of the indicators, themes, and factors mentioned by survey respondents. 21
  • 22. Qualitative Results Using this grounded theory approach, seven factors that influence students’ time to degree were generated from respondents’ narrative responses. 22
  • 23. Factors Influencing Time to Degree1. Curriculum Length2. Academic Planning and Choice3. Student Accountability4. Personal Experience and Preference5. Finance6. Facilitators7. Procedures and Scheduling 23
  • 24. Factors Defined1. Curriculum Length: Student choices that extended program length, such as adding a second major, or the actual requirements of certain programs.2. Academic Planning and Choice: Changing or deciding on programs and majors, as well as planning out courses and requirements towards graduation.3. Student Accountability: Course load, student motivation, student accountability, choosing to take courses elsewhere.4. Personal Experience and Preference: Individual or situational differences of students, such as depression or health-related issues.5. Finance: Aspects relating to funding education, such as having to work during school to pay for their education.6. Facilitators: Advisors, staff, and faculty.7. Procedures and Scheduling: Class scheduling and availability, graduation and program requirements, other administrative-type issues. 24
  • 25. #1 Curriculum LengthDefinition: Student choices that extended program length, suchas adding a second major, or the actual requirements of certainprograms.Verbatim Quote: “Though I graduated a year later than Ioriginally expected, I was able to spend a semester in theCzech Republic, a semester in Italy, a month in China, ANDadd a second major before graduating. Even though studentdebt is going to suck, Id say the extra year was worth it!”Coding Procedures:  Study abroad  Curriculum Length  Add second major  Curriculum Length 25
  • 26. #2 Academic Planning & ChoiceChanging or deciding on programs and majors, as well asplanning out courses and requirements towardsgraduation.“Changed my major from art education to just an art major”  Deciding major  Academic Planning & Choice 26
  • 27. #3 Student AccountabilityCourse load, student motivation, student accountability,choosing to take courses elsewhere.“I worked hard in order to graduate early from my program.”  Student accountability  Student Accountability 27
  • 28. #4 Personal Experience & PreferenceIndividual or situational differences of students, such asdepression or health-related issues.“I was forced to take a semester off due to a medical illness,and was poorly advised on classes I should take pretty muchthe entire time Ive been here.”  Health issues  Personal Experience & Preference  Advisor  Facilitator 28
  • 29. #5 FinanceAspects relating to funding education, such as having towork during school to pay for their education.“Working full time allowed me to only go to school part time,otherwise I would have finished sooner.”  Work  Finance 29
  • 30. #6 FacilitatorsAdvisors, staff, and faculty.“The liberal arts and sciences advisors told me the wrongclasses to take my first semester for my major, but the mathdepartment helped me to figure out a solution so I couldgraduate on time.”  Advisor  Facilitator  Faculty  Facilitator 30
  • 31. #7 Procedures & SchedulingClass scheduling and availability, graduation and programrequirements, other administrative-type issues.“Being willing to take on challenging course loads was helpful incompleting my degree in 4 years. It was difficult at times becausecertain classes were only offered at one time and not everysemester.”Course load  Student AccountabilityClass schedules  Procedures & SchedulingStudent accountability  Student Accountability 31
  • 32. Frequency Analysis of Factors Factor Name PercentFacilitators 47.3%Academic Planning and Choice 43.0%Student Accountability 25.8%Registration Processes & Course Scheduling 24.7%Curriculum Length 23.7%Finance 7.5%Personal Experience and Preference 7.5% 32
  • 33. Recommendation #1 Importance of Advising  Communicate and reiterate to all stakeholders  Positive AND negative effects Advisor Training and Resources  Additional or more extensive resources  Professional development  Share best practices 33
  • 34. Recommendation #2 Empowering Student Decision-Making  Provide options and accurate information  Allow students to make their own decision 34
  • 35. Recommendation #3 Student Accountability and Attitudes  Student motivation and accountability  It’s an educational process 35
  • 36. Recommendation #4 Process Improvements  Procedures and scheduling  Focus on institutional (directly controllable) factors 36
  • 37. Recommendation #5 Review, Explore, and Reflect on Existing Data  Review open ended results from Senior Exit Survey  Mine other data sources  Continue research using quantitative and qualitative methodologies 37
  • 38. Limitations In general, the limitations of this study are not any different than other similar studies Question wording made qualitative analysis difficult Sample from one institution at one point in time 38
  • 39. Future Considerations/Directions Online programs/classes that are flexible Summer/winter sessions  Examine enrollment numbers and courses offered Seek institutional buy-in on proposed graduation rate goals Future research at Edgewood on time to degree  Look at that subgroup who graduated early  Replicate on next years Senior Exit Survey 39
  • 40. Discussion1. What research have you done related to this topic at your own institution?2. Are the findings similar? Different?3. What has your institution done to decrease time to degree?4. What has worked for you in terms of gaining institutional buy-in with time to degree and graduation rate initiatives/goals? 40
  • 41. Thank you for your time! Questions? Comments? Suggestions? 41
  • 42. ReferencesAstin, A.W. & Oseguera, L. (2005). Degree Attainment Rates at American Colleges and Universities. Revised Edition. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.Burns, K. (2010). At issue: community college student success variables: a review of the literature. The Community College Enterprise, 16(2), 33-61.Center for Business and Economic Research, Miller College of Business, Ball State University (2011). An exploratory analysis: Educational attainment in Indiana. Retrieved from, S.L., Kim, D., & Rzonca, C.S. (2003). A nested analysis of factors affecting bachelor’s degree completion. Journal of College Student Retention, 4 (4), 407-435.Knight, W. E. (1994, May). Why the five-year (or longer) bachelors degree? An exploratory study of time to degree attainment. In 34th Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research, New Orleans, LA.Knight, W. E. (2002). Toward a comprehensive model of influences upon time to bachelor’s degree attainment. AIR Professional File, 85, 1-15. 42
  • 43. References Cont’Knight, W. E. (2004). Time to bachelor’s degree attainment: An application of descriptive, bivariate, and multiple regression techniques. IR Applications: Using Advanced Tools, Techniques, and Methodologies, 2, 1- 15.Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Buckley, J. A., Bridges, B. K., & Hayek, J. C. (2006, July). What matters to student success: A review of the literature. In Commissioned Report for the National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success: Spearheading a Dialog on Student Success.Office of Institutional Assessment and Research. (2011). Edgewood College Retention and Graduation Report. Madison, WI: Edgewood College.Owens, D., Lacey, K., Glinda, R. & Holbert-Quince, J. (2010). First-generation African American male college students: Implications for career counselors. The Career Development Quarterly, 58, 291-300.Perkins, G., Pitter, G.W., Howat, C., & Whitfield, D. (1999). Relationship of financial aid, work and college performance. In 39th Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research, Seattle, WA.Taylor, A.L. & Doane, D.J. (2012). Motivations to graduate in less than four years and summer session attendance. Summer Academe, 4, 7-30. 43