Perceptions of Success by Non-Traditional Students
Non-Traditional Students' Perceptions of Academic Support Needs
Perceptions of the Adequacy of College Services by Non-Traditional Students
This purpose of this paper is to review two studies relevant to the topic of the perceptions of non-traditional students about their programmatic and service needs as matriculated students in institutions of higher education. The first section reviews an article by Luzius and Webb (2002) on the satisfaction levels of non-traditional students with regard to library services at their institution. Luzius and Webb (2002) distributed a questionnaire to students on a public university that was designed to gauge satisfaction with library hours and resources. Luzius and Webb (2002) identified several potential improvements for library services. The second section reviews a comparative study of traditional and nontraditional students' identities and needs by Senter and Senter (1998). Using extant data, Senter and Senter (1998) compared the perceived needs of traditional and non-traditional students living off-campus, concluding that non-traditional students have less need for services on campus.
Nontraditional Students' Library Satisfaction
Conceptual and/or theoretical framework. In their qualitative survey of students using library services, Luzius and Webb (2002) use a conventional definition of "non-traditional" students. The authors emphasize that the most important difference between the two categories of students (traditional and non-traditional) is the level of responsibilities that exist in addition to the amount of coursework undertaken, study time, and classroom attendance. Their research objective is to learn more about the needs of non-traditional students with regard to their college library services. Using accidental sampling technique to identify survey participants, the researchers collect data from both traditional and non-traditional students.
Relationship between the study and the literature. In their brief literature review, Luzius and Webb (2002) point to research focused on differences between non-traditional and traditional students. Most of their literature review is given over to a discussion of the perceptions that non-traditional students have of their library skills, information literacy, comfort in the library as a study space, attitude toward paying for library services, and scheduling and experiential constraints. The authors also reviewed literature intended for library professionals about changes in and development of library services with non-traditional student in mind.
Sample selection -- how and why participants were selected and the extent to which participants are representative. Students were selected to participate in the study through a non-randomized process known as accidental sampling, wherein researchers simply use people who are at hand to form a sample. The researchers passed their survey out to willing students at different times of the day at three different locations on campus, including the library. No explanation for the sampling procedures used by the researchers was provided, nor was there discussion of attributes (sample size, population size, number of participants in each group by type of student) that would support the development of a representative sample.
Data collection methods -- transparency of explanation, adequacy, and appropriate to research question; role of researcher. The survey consisted of 10 questions and a list of 14 library attributes that were rated using a five point Likert scale. Five of the questions were open-ended and designed to reveal student perceptions about the library. These questions dealt with likes and dislikes, suggestions for additions or deletions in library services or processes, and why students accessed the library. Student participants were placed into traditional or non-traditional groups based on their answers to five survey questions about age, marital status, dependent children, time spent in employment, and academic course load. Meeting any of the following criteria placed a respondent in the non-traditional category: Twenty-two or more years of age, married, had children, worked more than 30 hours per week, or enrolled in six or less semester hours.
The researchers distributed the surveys, but did not describe if surveys were completed on-the-spot or if respondents could return completed surveys in some other way. It is not clear if the researchers interacted in any way with respondents, other than to hand out the surveys.
Research questions were not articulated and it is not apparent that the literature on the unique needs and challenges of non-traditional students influenced either question development or research design. Of the items in the library attribute rating section of the survey, only four (library weekend hours, library weekday hours, number of copiers, number of computers) were related to the issues of access particular to non-traditional students.
Data analysis - explanation. In concert with their overall research design, the authors took a basic approach to data analysis. Library attribute ratings were tallied separately for non-traditional students and traditional students. Likert scale numbers were collapsed into "satisfied" and "unsatisfied," categories, causing responses to the 5-part scale to be undifferentiated. Responses to open-ended questions were consolidated where redundancy occurred, with the summarized responses listed under the question that elicited the response. Thematic analysis was not apparent, when, in fact, responses to the five open-ended questions lend themselves to thematic regrouping and analysis.
Data quality as it relates to credibility, transferability, dependability, and conformability. Strategies were not employed to enhance the credibility, transferability, dependability, and conformability of the data.
Descriptive data, raw data display, and interpretations of data. The authors freely shared raw data, and the data displays were unambiguous and relatively concise. However, data was not displayed in matrix format, which would have substantively aided the analysis and made evident any emerging themes. The interpretation of available data, as such, was clearly separate from the data display
Maintenance of ethic standards, researcher objectivity, and avoidance of bias in data collection and analysis. There is a dearth of discussion in the methods section dealing with considerations such as approach strategies to engage students as survey respondents, or assistance provided to students to ensure completion of surveys. Therefore, reader is unable to discern if sampling or methodology inappropriately impacted the findings.
Research questions -- answered and further investigation indicated. The research question is implied but never explicitly stated. If the reader presumes that the research question is that non-traditional students are less satisfied with their library services than traditional students, then the research question could be said to have been "answered." Four recommendations for improving college libraries for use by non-traditional students were generated: Hours of operation, remote access, remote reference, and library instruction & tutorials. Of these four recommendations, only the first one seems to be directly related to the data as it is presented in the article. There was no attempt to address further research in this study although, clearly, the researchers have passed up several opportunities to do so. The researchers could have used the literature on non-traditional students' use of library services to better focus their survey questions, thereby eliciting more specific and useful data.
Significance of the study findings. The reader is never told how many surveys, out of the original 103 that were distributed on campus, were actually completed and returned for data processing. Without this information, and without a thematic analysis of the open-ended questions that would provide information about the frequency of responses, it is difficult for the reader to determine the strength of the findings. The authors do not address the significance of their findings, nor do they discuss limitations of the study or potential for generalizability. The study is simple, by any standard, and the article is written in a manner that is readily understandable.
Generalization and transferability. Overall, the study is adequately designed to confirm traditional student's satisfaction with the library and its services. The researchers do not attempt to generalize their findings beyond the circumstances in their own library system, nor do they suggest this is possible, given the limitations of their study. However, the research is weakly applied to the problem of to gaining an understanding about ways that libraries can better meet the needs of their non-traditional students, and the data is far from robust.
Accessibility of study report. This study is readily obtainable on the Web and written in a clear and understandable manner.
A Comparative Study of Traditional and Nontraditional Students' Identities and Needs
Conceptual and/or theoretical framework. In this retrospective descriptive study, Senter and Senter (1998) utilized extant qualitative survey data from primary research to carry out secondary research, using both qualitative and quantitative analysis. The authors describe their research as "designed to measure the perceived needs and better define the identities of nontraditional students, in order to contribute to the development of improved policies for assisting such students" (Senter & Senter, 1998, p.270).
Relationship between the study and the literature. The authors present a brief review of the literature that emphasizes non-traditional learners' perceptions of themselves as students, and two opposing views of adult learners as possessing strengths or weaknesses that contribute to their success or lack of success as college students. The basis for this analysis of the survey data is derived from two sources. The first resource, MacKinnon-Slaney's (1994) work on the persistence of adult learners suggests three areas of influence: Personal, learning, and environmental. In this study, Senter and Senter focus on…