Identifying Indicators of Student Development in College

By Hassan, Karma El

The purpose of this study is to investigate the effect of college on student goals and aspirations, in addition to identifying the determinants of overall quality of instruction, satisfaction with college in general, and the predictors of various aspects of student self-reported growth (intellectual, personal, social, preparation for further study, and preparation for a career). Moreover, the relationship among these various aspects of growth and with variables like grade point average, gender, level, and major was studied. The College Outcomes Survey (COS) was administered at end of the year to a representative sample of undergraduate students. Regression analyses were used to determine predictors of growth and satisfaction with college. T-tests were used to investigate change in students’ goals and aspirations, and mean differences in growth. ANOVAs were used to investigate differences in growth by various background variables studied. Findings were discussed and their implications on institutional policies and practices were outlined. There is vast evidence on college impact. Overwhelming body of evidence suggests that college attendance significantly contributes to learning and cognitive development over and above that of expected maturation and life experiences (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Simple comparison between college graduates and non- graduates of a similar age, graduates make statistically significant gains in factual knowledge and in a range of general cognitive and intellectual skills: they also change on a broad array of value, attitudinal, psycho-social, and moral dimensions.

The conceptual work of Astin (1993), Chickering (1969), Pascarella (1985), and Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) has identified four types of influences that need to be taken into account to accurately estimate the impact of college on students (1) demographic or precollege characteristics, (2) organizational or structural characteristics of the institution (3) academic experiences, and (4) nonacademic experiences.

Interest in student development was heightened by industrial leaders’ calls for college graduates who can work in teams and solve real world problems (Augustine, 1996; Black, 1994; Bucciarelli, 1988). In addition, in 1992, the National Educational Goals Panel declared student developmental outcomes such as critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, and responsible citizenship essential when judging the effectiveness of its institutional affiliates. Accrediting agencies have contributed to this trend also by shifting their focus to indicators of teaching effectiveness.

The National Study of Student Learning (NSSL) examined the influence of academic and nonacademic experiences on undergraduate student learning and orientations to learning. The study uncovered a large number of unconditional effects like quality of teaching, extent and nature of interaction with faculty and peers, the focus and intensity of academic experiences, and the overall level of student engagement that are more important in defining excellence in undergraduate education than the reputation, selectivity, or resources of the institution attended (Pascarella, 2001). Identifiable types of campus structures seem to matter far less than the nature of the opportunities presented by the college (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991).

Student self-reports of cognitive growth along with standardized test results and college grades have been the more commonly used outcome measures in college impact studies (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991 ). In the former, students are asked to estimate and report the degree of cognitive change since they entered college in each of several areas of knowledge and competence. A good deal of research supports the use of student self-report measures (Pike, 1995, 1996; Bowen, 1977), as they possess a certain degree of convergent validity vis-a-vis standardized instruments, and despite the absence of one-to-one correspondence between the two, self-reports can be justifiably used as general indicators of achievement.

Ewell & Jones (1993) champion the use of indirect measures because of the extreme difficulty of producing direct ones. From a methodological perspective, this method can cover a wide range of learning and developmental outcomes. It is also attractive from a practical perspective since it is fairly inexpensive, in addition, many of the goals of higher education cannot be measured by achievement tests, such as outcomes related to attitudes, values, and social and practical competence. For some outcomes, student reports may be the only source of useful data ((Kuh, Pace & Vesper, 1997).

For these reasons, efforts have been allocated to creating performance indicators that address the functions of a university and that can act as proxies of institutional quality and as predictors of college student learning. As the viability of resource and reputation indicators has been questioned, recommendations were made for the development of process indicators, measures of behavior associated with desired outcomes of college (NCHEMS, 1994), and for assessment of impacts or results in area of student development and professional competencies (Burke & Serban, 1998). Process indicators serve two purposes; they can help institutions identify whether activities and opportunities for learning are in ample supply and whether students are taking advantage of institution’s resources. In addition, they are action-oriented in that they can be used to inform policy decisions that could lead to enhanced student learning (Kuh et al, 1997).

For the past four years, the University (AUB) has been going through a process of self-study and self-assessment as part of accreditation and its efforts to improve the quality of its education. For this purpose, a series of studies investigating both teaching and institutional effectiveness were conducted. AUB received accreditation in June 2004; however the assessment of processes, academic programs and learning outcomes, had been an ongoing activity. The results of these investigations are being made use of in the strategic planning initiative that has started following accreditation.

One of the instruments used for the past three years to assess student perceptions of their learning experience at AUB and the extent to which it contributed to student growth is the ACT College Outcome Survey (COS). The COS is administered annually to a representative sample of the undergraduate student population and its results are made use of in assessing AUB’s progress towards attaining the various learning outcomes.

The COS provides information on college outcomes attained, personal growth realized, extent of satisfaction with various aspects of college, and extent of growth (intellectual, personal, social, preparation for further study and for a career), in addition to student background information (age, major, level, sex, educational achievements and goals, parents education, responsibilities, and time allocations). It also provides an additional items section which includes items on instructional and teaching activities.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the effect of college on student goals and plans, in addition to identifying the determinants of Overall quality of instruction in my program’ and ‘satisfaction with this college in general’. Similarly, this study aims to identify the predictors of various aspects of student self- reported growth (intellectual, personal, social, preparation for further study, preparation for a career), and those variables within college expertence that are statistically significant predictors of outcome measures. Moreover, the relationship among these various aspects of growth and with variables like grade point average, gender, level, and major will be studied. Findings will have practical implications on how the institution will organize itself and for how it will structure students’ learning experiences. They will also impact institutional policies and practices as they will identify those processes and activities most tied to learning, and accordingly the more effort devoted to these activities the higher the benefits.


Sample and Administration

The COS was administered by the Office of Institutional Research to a representative sample of undergraduate students in their classrooms towards the end of the academic year. Stratified cluster sampling was used and a sample of 72 course sections was selected. Concerned faculty were contacted, and students’ cooperation and motivation were sought by e-mail. A total of 892 students filled out the forms and these were sent to ACT for scoring and reporting.

Data Analysis

ACT provided item statistics for the whole sample and by gender, faculty, and GPA, in addition to an ASCI data file. The later was used to answer questions of the present study. To investigate effect of college on student goals and plans, t-tests were used to investigate difference in goals at entry to university and at present. For predictors of present goals, overall quality of instruction, overall satisfaction, and various aspects of growth, a series of regression analyses were used. The dependent variables were regressed against 1) student precollege characteristics (educational plans and aspirations, father/mother education), 2) satisfaction items with various aspects of college, 3) progress made in various learning outcomes, 4) personal growth attained, and 5) teaching practices and classroom experiences. To investigate relation among various aspects of growth, Pearson r correlations were computed, while to study the relationship of aspects of growth with demographic variables, analyses of variance were used. Results

Effect of College on Student Aspirations and Plans

T-tests revealed significant mean differences between ‘Highest goal you Now intend to pursue in your lifetime’ (M=7.43, SD = 0.79) and ‘Highest goal you had when you first enrolled here’ (M=6.55, SD= 0.1.91), t (660) =12.06, p=.00. Correlations betweens goals at entry and at present were low but significant r=0.25, p

Predictors of Overall Satisfaction with College and with Quality of Instruction

When overall satisfaction with college was regressed against all other independent variables, the model revealed 12 variables that correlated r=0.77 and accounted for 59% of the variance in satisfaction. Table 1 provides results of the regression with respective Betas (beta), in decreasing order of importance, and their significance. As to satisfaction with overall quality of instruction, regression revealed 11 predictors correlating r=0.76 and accounting for 57% of the variance (Table 1).

Various Aspects of Growth

Descriptive statistics revealed highest mean in intellectual growth (M= 3.94) followed by social growth (M=3.87), while lowest was in preparation for a career (M=3.56). Tests of significance between means revealed significant differences between different types of growth attained by students at p

Regression analyses involving aspects of growth against various variables are reported in Table 2. Predictors of various aspects of growth are reported with their respective Beta (beta) weights and the significance level in their order of importance.


Effect of College on Student Aspirations and Goals

Studying at AUB has an impact on students as revealed by growth they experienced in several areas and by significant effect on their aspirations and goals. Goals student NOW intend to pursue are significantly higher than the ones they entered with which confirms the fact that there is a relationship between present goals and aspirations and those at entry but they are different and distinct. Pascarella, Wolniak, & Pierson (2003) confirm the importance of pre college educational plans as an important variable in end of year plans, in addition to gender, race and tested academic ability. One does not have to use change or gain scores to either statistically or conceptually explain growth in college, as adjustment for pre- college abilities was taken care of by including pretest measure as a statistical control. Then, estimated impacts of all other variables in regression equation on posttest scores would remain the same as their estimated impact on pretest-to-posttest gains. Moreover, pre college achievement is presumably already controlled because the survey asks the student to report change since entering college.

Predictors of Overall Satisfaction with College and with Quality of Instruction

Regression revealed predictors of overall quality of instruction to be mainly teaching and classroom practices like those involving clarity and organization and interacting with faculty and receiving feedback. Evidence in the literature is mounting to the importance of these classroom practices. Terenzini, Springer, Pascarella, & Nora (1995) confirm that student’ interactions with peers and with faculty members (primarily outside the classroom) are positively related to gains in cognitive ability. Similarly, Tsui (2002) revealed that selfassessed growth is positively related to such instructional factors as having a paper critiqued by an instructor, conducting independent research, and working on a group project. Results of Cabrera, Colbeck & Terenzini (2001) corroborate evidence from other research indicating that faculty efforts in the classroom influences student learning. An instructor who interacts with students, guides learning rather than lecturing, and gives detailed and specific feedback and encouragement provides students with a model for positive collaborative behavior. Those instructors who bring clarity and organization to the classroom also positively influence student development. Explaining assignments and activities and articulating them to the content of the class, and clearly stating course expectations increases the ability of students to solve problems.

As to overall satisfaction with college, the identified 12 variables explained around 60% of the variance. Five of these variables were satisfaction items with curriculum (variety of courses, flexible degree requirements, program of study) and with out-of class experiences (faculty respect for students, campus atmosphere of understanding). A third of the variables predictive of overall satisfaction represented personal growth in social skills; constructively expressing emotions and ideas, academic competence, and considering opposing points of view. Similarly, satisfaction with college is affected by progress in attaining certain outcomes like developing ability to think and reason and study skills. Examining these findings, leads to the conclusion that satisfaction with college is not solely related to satisfaction or growth in intellectual development but it is equally, if not, more related to personal and social growth and to both classroom and out-of- classroom experiences. Theoreticians have long suggested that students learn and change in holistic ways and as a consequence of multiple college influences (Graham & Cockriel, 1996; Pascarella, 1989). Accordingly, an aggregate measure of student social and academic involvement would be a significant predictor, as college’s effects go beyond intellectual development and are more cumulative and interrelated, rather than specific to any particular kind of experience.

Various Aspects of Growth

Highest growth was achieved in the intellectual domain and these results can be explained by the tendency at AUB, as a teaching research institution, to enhance student intellectualism. Recently, however, and since accreditation was received and to meet employers’ and job market needs, a move to stress all aspects of growth was started. However, the intellectualism stressed at AUB was not at the expense of other aspects, as revealed by the reported moderate correlations between various aspects. Similar results were reported by Moss (2003) while investigating intellectualism versus career preparation among graduating college seniors thus failing to support Khatchadourian & Boli ‘s (1985) finding that career growth tends to interfere with intellectual growth.

When investigating differences in various aspects of growth by background variables (GPA, major, gender, level), only intellectual growth revealed significant differences in all of those variables. Students in senior class, with higher GPA, male and majoring in education and sciences had highest mean scores in intellectual growth. Preparation for a career and for further study differed by major, while the later also differed by GPA. It is expected that students with higher GPA would have also attained more growth in all of the aforementioned areas. Measures of growth should demonstrate relationships with background characteristics that agree with theory and existing research. Research has shown that a student studying humanities and social sciences shows better critical and logical thinking than others (Gadzella & Masten, 1998). Also, higher levels of general thinking were reported among students with higher GPA and a higher level of study (Cheung, Rudowicz, Kwan, & Yue, 2002). Similarly, Tsui (1999) concluded that self-reported growth in critical thinking is positively, albeit moderately, correlated with college grades (.13) and undergraduate degree attainment (.11).

Examining predictors identified from regressing aspects of growth on different categories of variables, one can note some interesting general findings. First, there is overlap in predictors of different growth aspects and some predictors explain variance in more than one domain. For example progress in ‘applying scientific knowledge and skills’ is a predictor of personal growth, preparation for further study and for a career. Second, despite overlap, there are some predictors that are specific to some growth domains. Third, predictors of any one aspect of growth are a combination of cognitive, social/ personal, and teaching/classroom practices. Importance of each category differs depending on aspect of growth measured. Table 3 presents a summary of predictors, the overlap among different types of growth, and the specificity to certain growth domains. Each of progress in learning to think and reason’, ‘applying scientific knowledge and skills’, and ‘personal growth in developing a sense of purpose and meaning in life’ is a predictor of three aspects of growth. There are others which predict two aspects, while some which are specific to one like ‘practical work experiences offered in areas related to my major’ and ‘acquiring knowledge and skills needed for a career’ that are predictors of preparation for a career. Similarly, ‘dealing fairly with a wide range of people’, ‘developing self-confidence’, and ‘becoming an effective team group member’ were particular to social growth.

As evident from the table, the predictors of each aspect of growth is a combination of factors emphasizing progress in some cognitive outcomes, personal/social growth, and satisfaction with class and out of class experiences. Research have long emphasized the multiple sources of influences that span the college experience including student involvement both in and outside the class (Terenzini, et. al, 1995, Pascarella, 89, Loeb and Magee, 1992). These data suggest college experiences affect personal growth in many different areas simultaneously and do not just affect a limited spectrum of it. They also stress the fact that the real quality of the undergraduate experience rests more on the educational ethos and in what a college does to tie academic and social engagement to one another rather than to the traditional measures of quality (Terenzini & Pascarella, 1994). Research emphasizes the multidimensionality of these indicators and the need to use them as a group if they are to support strategic decisions. The information they provide provides a comprehensive picture of institutional strategic areas (Ewell, 1998).

Conclusion and Implications

This research has attempted to identify predictors of student development and satisfaction with college. The findings of this study helped identify the different types of experiences needed to enhance and develop different types of growth. Gains in student development appear to be a consequence of a variety of student experiences, not those that are part of the formal instructional program only. Students’ background characteristics had only trivial influences on educational gains. Little in way of structures seemed to make difference in student achievement. Growth was largely determined by the individual’s level of involvement in both academic and nonacademic activities. Differences that mattered were on ‘personal level’. Interactions with faculty on research projects, discussing research or career plans seemed to play a significant role in development. The relatedness of both cognitive and affective development calls for addressing what appears to make a difference- the quality of teaching and the nature of the educational environment on campus. Some of the implications of the above findings:

1. In order to make a complete representation of the college experience, we need to take into account the multiple sources of influence that span the entire college experience. This study provided information on areas where college has its greatest impact and accordingly they should be targeted by policy decisions.

2. From practical point of view, findings have implications for how colleges organize themselves and for how they structure students’ learning experiences. Institutional & academic program planning processes are more likely to be effective if they take into account the potential for simultaneous contributions of students’ class-related and out of class experiences on student learning. Astra, et al, 1994, as cited in Graham & Cockriel ( 1996), recommend college officials to articulate general frameworks of growth for students and to link academic and student service programs through internships and course experiences. These can allow students to confront real-world problems and provide opportunities for leadership roles that are similar to ones they will be required to develop once they join the world of work.

3. Similarly, recent advances in cognitive psychology (Anderson & Armbruster, 1990) and student involvement (Astin, 1993; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991) might offer ideas to design meaningful learning experiences that integrate cognitive growth and personality development.

4. From academic point of view, findings can help in identifying instructional techniques that are influential to intellectual growth and quality instruction and accordingly emphasize them in faculty development and in curriculum. The importance of faculty feedback and clarity/organization of instruction were evident in the study, in addition to that of student active involvement.

Finally, this paper confirms the literature on the multidimensionality and web-like character of the factors enhancing student growth. It also affirms the holistic way in which students grow and learn, thus affirming a general framework for growth, despite the fact that this study is done in a different culture. However, the differences, if any, might have been overcome by the fact that AUB is an American institution promoting liberal arts education.


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