Presentation on theme: "Examining Traditional and Non-Traditional Students’ Perceptions of Undergraduate Research Opportunities Andre C. Louis, Office of Research and Sponsored."— Presentation transcript:
Examining Traditional and Non-Traditional Students’ Perceptions of Undergraduate Research Opportunities Andre C. Louis, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs University of Michigan-Flint Introduction Over the years, colleges and universities have seen a significant increase in the non-traditional demographic making up the undergraduate student population. Despite this resounding growth, little research has been conducted to measure the academic achievement, motivation, learning processes, or aptitude of students who are characterized as non-traditional. Also not heavily discussed is the extent to which participation in research and creative activities contributes to the overall experience of non-traditional students, particularly in comparison to their traditional student counterparts. Relying on a quantitative methodological approach, this study examined the experiences of traditional and non-traditional student participants in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) at the University of Michigan-Flint; a mid-sized primarily undergraduate institution (PUI). For the purpose of this study, traditional students were defined as college students between the ages of 18 and 23, who attended college immediately after graduating from high school. Non-traditional students were defined as students ages 24 and over, many of whom were returning to college after an extended period of time or starting at a later point in their lives. Conclusion This study provided meaningful quantitative information used to identify students’ reasons for attending college (overwhelmingly for the purpose of career preparation), their reasons for participating in UROP (to improve job prospects and to increase likelihood of graduate/professional school acceptance) and their perceptions of their overall experiences as student researchers. The findings further revealed that an overall sense of skill development was more prevalent in non- traditional students. Anecdotal responses obtained from the survey instrument suggested that non-traditional students generally possess a unique ability to interweave the complexities of their lives (raising families, working full time), their work experiences, and their learning activities; all of which then lead them to having more positive and worthwhile experiences as they conduct research. Non-traditional students were generally able to connect their research experiences (as well as their academic training) to their real life experiences far more than their traditional student counterparts. Given the growing number of non-traditional students making up the population at UM-Flint and, indeed, across the country, colleges and universities must adopt institutional changes that allow non-traditional students to thrive within a system ostensibly committed to increased participation. Despite the fact that non-traditional students are faced with mounting difficulties (financial, personal, domestic, academic, etc.), they have clearly indicated an interest to be involved, especially through undergraduate research. While non-traditional students still make up the minority, the population continues to grow and becoming more of an integral part of higher education. References Laing, Chris, Kuo-Ming Chao, Alan Robinson. 2005. “Managing the expectations of non- traditional students: a process of negotiation.” Journal of Further and Higher Education 29(2): 169-179. Copper, Becky. 2008. “Changing Demographics: Why Nontraditional Students Should Matter to Enrollment Managers and What They Can Do to Attract Them”. SEM Source. December 2008. E. Seymour, A.B. Hunter, S. Laursen, and T. DeAntoni. Establishing the Benefits of Research Experiences for Undergraduates: First Findings From a Three-Year Study. Science Education. 88, 493–594 (2004). Snyder, T.D., and Dillow, S.A. (2011). Digest of Education Statistics 2010 (NCES 2011-015). National Center for Education Statistics Methodology The entire roster of 102 UROP students during the 2011-2012 academic year were asked to participate in the study. Of that population, 57 students (55.8%) participated. Twenty-three students (mean age = 19.8 years old, SD = 1.24) identified themselves as traditional students, while thirty-four students (mean age = 24.19 years od, SD = 4.78) considered themselves non-traditional students. Willing participants took an electronic survey distributed through the Qualtrics online system. The 21-question survey measured three specific variables: (1) the students’ motivation for college enrollment [attending or returning to college] and UROP participation, (2) their level of skill development through research, and (3) the likelihoods of certain educational/career outcomes and the extent to which participation in undergraduate research affected those outcomes. Demographic information was also collected. The data were analyzed using a combination of the Qualtrics analytical tools and SPSS statistical packaging software. Traditional and non-traditional students responses were compared by examining the mean differences in responses. Independent samples t-tests with a 95% confidence interval were used to test statistically significant differences between the traditional and non-traditional respondents. Additionally, Cronbach's alpha testing was used to measure of inter-item consistency on each of these items. Results Educational/Career Outcomes: Finally, students were asked to indicate likelihoods of certain educational and career outcomes and the extent to which participation in undergraduate research affected those outcomes The mean scores were recorded in Table 3. Cronbach's alpha of alpha of α =.84 was generated; suggesting that the items also had relatively high internal consistency. Skill Development: In order to measure the skill developmental levels of both the traditional and non-traditional UROP students, a matrix was used to determine how confident the respondents were in different research-related areas. Table 2 ranks the means for set of responses in descending order. The highest rated item was “Work[ing] well with a faculty sponsor” (x̄ = 4.43); while the lowest ranking item was “Writ[ing] a scholarly article for publication” (x̄ = 3.64). Cronbach's alpha of α =. 92 was generated; once again indicating a high degree of consistency. Motivation for Enrollment and UROP Participation: This portion of the survey accomplished two things: (1) to rank the reasons why students chose to attend and/or return to college and (2) to determine their motivation for participating in UROP. Regarding their decision to attend/return to college, items included: (1) Career/pay advancement, (2) Expectations from others, (3) Academic motivation, (4) Personal goals, and (5) other reasons. Regarding their decision to participate UROP, options included: (1) Skill Development, (2) Paid opportunities, (3) Seeking hands-on experience, (4) Graduate or Professional School Preparation, (5) Career Preparation, and (6) Other, where the respondent could specify another reason. Cronbach's alpha of α =. 87 was generated, indicating a high degree of inter-item consistency.