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The Importance of Qualitative Research in Providing Evidence for Student Support Services Standards


Academic year: 2021

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The Importance of

Qualitative Research in

Providing Evidence for

Student Support Services


Raelynn Cooter, PhD

Christine Lysionek, PhD

Kris Peluszak, MSEd


Presentation Focus

Important Role of focus groups in

assessing student and academic support


Highlight the positives and challenges of

focus groups identified in the literature

Provide examples from two institutions of

how the positives from conducting focus

groups have been captured and the

challenges of conducting focus groups

have been met


Standard 9 Student Support


(Twelfth Edition)

The institution provides student support services

reasonably necessary to enable each student to achieve the institution’s goals for students.

Fundamental Element

Ongoing assessment of student

support services and the

utilization of assessment results

for improvement.


Standard 4 Support of the

Student Experience


The institution commits to student retention, persistence, and completion through a coherent and effective support

system….., which enhances the quality of the learning

environment, contributes to the educational experience, and fosters success.

Periodic assessment of the

effectiveness of programs supporting

the student experience.


Focus Group Positives


Enrichment of summary data

• Enriches quantitative findings and/or highlights areas where deeper quantitative study is required.

Group Participation

• Allows individuals to interact with participants, ask

questions of each other, re-evaluate own understanding and feel involved in decision making.

Modification of topics

• Dynamic nature of conversation can lead to modification of topic.


• Using a moderator ensures that conversation is always ethical and on track. Encourage participant engagement without one individual dominating the meeting.


Focus Group Challenges


Individual Participants

• Discussion can be dominated by one or two individuals and cause participation bias.

Moderator Bias

• Moderator has to allow participants to discuss and

examine topic without directly influencing content with personal bias.

Small sample size

• Focus groups tend to be a small sample of a much larger portion of population.


• Discussion can take too long to be sure that all topics are covered equally.


Cabrini College Retention Study

 Do significant differences exist between retention

of first-to-second year African American, Latino and Caucasian students?

 Quantitative Analysis I

- Three consecutive entering cohorts FTFT UG’s (N = 1199)

- Findings

o No significant difference for Caucasians and


o Difference for African Americans; retained

at a statistically significant lower rate


Retention Study

 Do significant differences exist between these three groups on factors related to retention (internal & external research)?

 Statistical comparison between retention and 18 pre & post entry independent variables

 Quantitative Analysis II

- Findings: African Americans

o Significantly lower 1st year GPA’s (strong correlation

b/t HS GPA & Cabrini GPA); strongest predictor of retention

o Significantly lower EFCs & and more likely to be Pell

grant recipients

o Significantly more likely to be first gen

o Significantly less likely to be a student athlete, an

on-campus resident or participant in an LLC


Retention Study


On the basis of these

findings, where would

you direct your

retention resources?


Retention Study

Qualitative Data


Focus group & Individual Interviews (N

= 15)


Two facilitators


10 Question Protocol re: personal

perceptions of campus climate for



Content analysis – themes, patterns of

response; correspondence with prior

“diversity audit” focus group findings


Retention Study

Findings - Positives


Support & encouragement from

faculty, staff & advisors


Visible symbolic, academic,

programmatic, hiring and

recruitment commitment to



Sense of pride at being at the


Retention Study

Findings – Negatives

o Transition Issues

o Roommate difficulties, homesickness;

pressure from friends at home to return each weekend during their first year; “culture shock”

o Isolation & Discomfort

o Majority students unconcerned about their

issues; “Micro-aggressions” - being singled out in class; erroneous assumptions about their pre-college experience; having to


Retention Study

Findings – Negatives

o Not reacting to racial comments or jokes to

avoid being labeled as “overly sensitive”

o Campus discussions of race only when negative

things occur

o College’s tendency to “view all students as the

same;” failure to distinguish between

“equality (treating all students the same) and equity (giving students what they need to

accrue the same outcomes as others.”


Retention Study


Do these findings influence

your response to the first

question, i.e., where

would you direct your

retention resources?


Retention Study

 Benefits of Combined Approach

o More comprehensive view of retention than

we had previously - Not just about “inputs”

o Allows improved planning, budgeting and

intentionality re: retention initiatives

o Increased attention to considering “differences

by race/ethnicity” in surveys and other student-related research moving forward; increased sensitivity to distinction b/t


Retention Study

Challenges of Mixed Methods Approach


Data collection & analysis is labor intensive


Limited generalizability:


Small “N” for focus groups & interviews


Typically “convenience sample” or “opt-in” volunteers


Serves to highlight areas where more research is



Thomas Jefferson University

Middle States Self-Study

Student representatives on each of the Middle

States Self-Study Task Forces but they wanted

to include a broader student voice in

responding to self-study research questions.

Quantitative Analysis

o Student Satisfaction Surveys


Overall Satisfaction average range 2.7 –

3.3 (4 point scale) with isolated “areas of

concern” each year



Middle States Self-Study

 Findings

Scores across the majority of divisions

and services indicates students are


Identification of “areas of concern”

Satisfaction scores combined with open

ended comments help focus the

response and identify resources for

“areas of concern.”


Middle States Self-Study


On the basis of these findings,

to what other areas should

resources be directed? How

do you prioritize resource

allocation to areas that show

satisfaction scores between

2.7 and 3.0?


Middle States Self-Study

Qualitative Data

Committee of Student Advisors -

Established in 1998 to promote and

facilitate ongoing communication

between students and all

administrative areas

Student Representatives from all

academic divisions

Students in attendance at focus groups

encouraged to bring a “non-CSA

member” student colleague

Questions covered assessment of all


Middle States Self-Study

Findings – Positives

Reinforced high satisfaction with:

Financial Aid Office interactions;

Physical Safety and Mental Well


Services and Information provided

to students during clinical rotations;


Cultural competency - across

academic programs.


Middle States Self-Study

Findings – Negatives, New Information and


 Negatives:

 Housing online application; and  Problem wireless areas.

 New Information:

 Ideal Study Space specifications;

 Confusion – IT services and Media services.  Surprise:

 Significant student concern - judicial

process is different among schools.


Middle States Self-Study


Do these findings help

direct the focus of resource

allocation and policy and

procedure development?


Middle States Self-Study

Response – The ability to identify next steps based on

qualitative findings

 Resources:

 Housing online application - higher priority.  Expansion of wireless ports.

 Repurposed four rooms into “ideal study space”.  Education

 Improve understanding of IT Services and Media Services.

 Policy

 Judicial Policies under review to ensure consistency across schools.


Middle States Self-Study

Benefits and Challenges of Mixed Methods


 Benefits

 Enrichment of Summary Data – Increased

specificity for focusing resources

 CSA serves as a “continuous focus group”

thereby minimizing “surprise concerns.”

 Challenges

 Influential Participants – Some intervention


 Moderator Bias - Administrators in attendance

- ONLY to respond to areas of confusion.

 Small sample size - CSA members “opt-in”

volunteers. Encouraged to “bring a friend”.



Raelynn Cooter – Raelynn.Cooter@jefferson.edu

Christine Lysionek – Christine.Lysionek@cabrini.edu

Kris Peluszak – Kris.Peluszak@jefferson.edu



 Middle States Commission on Higher

Education. (2014) Requirements of affiliation and standards for

accreditation (13th ed). Retrieved from http://www.msche.org/publications.asp

 Association of Institutional Research.

(2012) Conducting focus groups with college students: Strategies to ensure success. Retrieved from

https://www.jwu.edu/uploadedFiles/Do cuments/Academics/JWUGradCREFocus GroupsBillups.pdf

 Creswell, J. W. (2008) Educational

research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

 Jones, P.W., & Kottler, J.A. (2006)

Understanding research: Becoming a competent and critical consumer. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

 Middle States Commission on Higher

Education. (2006) Characteristics of excellence in higher education. Eligibility requirements and standards for accreditation. Retrieved from

http://www.msche.org/publications/CH X06060320124919.pdf

 Leedy, P. D., & Ormrod, J. E. (2005)

Practical research: Planning and

designing (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

 Group Plus. (June 2003) Focus group

research: Why traditional research methodology works so effectively and why it deserves to be the most

respected of all qualitative research tools. Retrieved from

http://www.groupsplus.com/pages/Res pect3.htm

 Bullock, M. & Jones, J. (1999) Beyond

Surveys: Using focus groups to evaluate university career services. Journal of career planning and employment, 4, 38 – 44.

 Gibbs, A. (1997) Focus groups. Social


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