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 OUSA focus groups report: a primary research investigation FEBRUARY 2010 Prepared by: Paul Bien Director of Research and Policy Analysis.

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Presentation on theme: " OUSA focus groups report: a primary research investigation FEBRUARY 2010 Prepared by: Paul Bien Director of Research and Policy Analysis."— Presentation transcript:

1  OUSA focus groups report: a primary research investigation FEBRUARY 2010 Prepared by: Paul Bien Director of Research and Policy Analysis

2 purpose Two main reasons for undertaking focus groups:  to engage everyday students in a dialogue on issues surrounding student financial assistance and student services on campus.  to have qualitative information to give some shape to our usual mix of quantitative data and expert opinion.

3 procedures  Study took place at three OUSA campuses: Brock, McMaster and Laurier.  Students were selected based on their age, year of study, and receiving government student loans.  OUSA Director of Research and Policy Analysis conducted the focus group interviews.  Highlights of findings have been collated and reported.


5 findings: financial aid  One of the strongest findings in the financial aid section was the desire for students to have greater consideration given to their individual situation in the assessment.  Many students were unhappy with the amount and depth of help they were able to secure from financial aid offices as well as online and pone options.  Most students found that OSAP did not cover all their expenses during the school year, and often turned to jobs, family (if possible), or private loans.  Students often related their frustration and fear at constantly being drained to $0 at the end of each year, and being allowed to keep no savings in case of emergencies.

6 findings: financial aid cont’d  Many students expressed a great deal of trepidation about their ability to repay their student loans.  In a related way, students often discussed at length the decisions and life plans that have changed due to the size of their loans.  A student’s concern about their debt depended a great deal on what year of study they were in, with upper years expressing more concern than lower years.  Concern about repayment varied based on program of study as well, with those in professional, technical or teaching programs voicing a greater certainty at employment.

7 financial aid: quotations  “In today’s society you can’t get a job without some kind of a degree. The more years you spend in school, the better job you’ll get, and the higher pay you’ll get when you leave. That makes it easier to pay it back.”  “I would like to see someone physically there to answer the questions about filling out the application form.”  “OSAP expects you to constantly live on the line with no savings or any amount left over. It barely satisfies my basic needs, but that’s it, there’s not a cent left, even with a job, and so I start from zero every year.”  “I’m wondering about buying a house, and whether they’ll give me a mortgage if I have all this OSAP debt. Coming right out of university will be the worst and scariest, because if you can’t find a job for the first year then you have to find something else, not in your university field just to pay bills.”

8 Findings: student services  Perceptions of the importance of student services seemed to depend a great deal on whether or not the student spent their first year in residence.  Students who used services often were, not surprisingly, greatly in favour of their increased funding and promotion at individual institutions.  The general sense was that a lack of service use was due in large part to poor marketing.  The vast majority of findings in this section were immediately valuable to a specific campus, but did not hold a great deal of general information that could be applied at a system wide level.

9 student services: quotations  “The social stuff gives students a home instead of just a school.”  “First year living in residence there are so many things that they get you involved in- the school is a self-contained city.”  “Services need to be more personal or interconnected with each other, so they can better direct and refer people to each other. “  “As you get into upper years more and more services reveal themselves to you.”


11 interpretations: financial aid  OUSA tends to highlight the OSAP maximum or needs assessment as major issues, but there are additional concerns relating to designation of independent students and special circumstances that could also be focused on.  There are often conflicting feelings regarding student loans, wherein some students argued for a loan system which simply provided them with as much loan as they believed they needed while concurrently, they were deeply concerned about their mounting debt.  There are a range of issues in financial aid that everyday students must deal with on the ground that could become part of OUSA’s advocacy strategy in the future.

12 interpretations: student services  There are a wide variety of feelings towards student services, which has to do in many cases with a student’s level of engagement. If a student lived in residence, or came in contact with a service early on in their university career, they were more likely to feel that services were important to their success.  Those students who do use many services are often more passionate about and more engaged in their own student experience.  Most universities had similar services offered at similar levels, what differed was their strategies in communicating the nature and importance of these services to the students on their campus. Multiple times students in the study suggested that it was not necessarily services that were inadequate, but their marketing.


14 financial aid Points that figured heavily in the study include:  Have a way to better include accommodations for individual circumstances  Work with OSAP and institutions to remove late penalties and fees for paying tuition late due to the timed release of OSAP  Build in more personalized support throughout the application process  Students are more and more relying on jobs and private lines of credit. It is crucial OUSA study the effects of these choices more deeply  Make the way OSAP funds are delivered more convenient

15 student services Points that figured heavily and should be further explore by OUSA are:  Regardless the nature and quality of a service, if it is not well advertised students will rarely use it to their full advantage  Centralizing some student services provides students with a better opportunity to utilize all they need in a convenient setting  For students who use services on campus, they feel that their experience is greatly enhanced  Residence is an extremely important part of early campus integration

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