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Characteristics of effectiveness: an empirical study.

Abstract

This study examined student characteristics and perceptions of university effectiveness, defined as a value judgment based on students perceptions of congruence between the importance of several activity domains and how well the domains are achieved by the institution. The results of this study revealed differences among the perceptions of various student groups by race, age, gender, financial aid status, and campus residence status. This finding is important because it lends strong support to earlier findings regarding the effect of age on students' perceptions of effectiveness.

Introduction

Students enrolled in college for the first time make judgments early in their academic careers regarding several characteristics of the institutions they are attending. Whether students' first impressions are positive or negative often determines their decisions to stay or transfer to another institution. The question is, how do students form impressions of institutions and what variables lead students to prefer some institutions to other institutions? This raises the issue of how do students rate organizational activities. Organizational activities are the 54 items included in the instrument used for this study. To investigate this problem, the following theoretical framework was used.

Theoretical Framework

The background for this study comes from an examination of the literature on organizational effectiveness and a desire to contribute meaningful research information. The strategic constituencies approach, also referred to as the ecological approach or the participant-satisfaction approach (Connolly, Conlon, & Deutsch, 1980; Keeley, 1978; Miles, 1980), suggests that an effective organization satisfies, at least to some degree, the demands of constituencies in its environment from whom it must have support for continued existence. This approach assumes that an organization is faced with frequent and competing demands from a variety of interest groups. Because the interest groups are of unequal importance, effectiveness is determined by the organization's ability to identify its strategic constituencies and to satisfy the demands placed upon the organization (Kleemann & Richardson, 1985). Students are a valuable national resource for institutions of higher learning. The decision of students to attend or not attend a particular college or university is an important one. Changes which are occurring at an increasingly accelerated pace have resulted in a knowledge explosion in the fields of finance, medicine, economics, engineering, politics, and others (Graham and Gisi, 2000; Karemera, Reuben, and Sillah 2003; Mitchell 1982). Previous studies have demonstrated that minorities can succeed in a variety of settings when institutions accept the responsibility for improving the environment. Data also indicate that after the year 2005, Blacks and Hispanics will make up the largest portion of the population in the southwest under the age of thirty (Fields 1988; Graham and Gisi, 2000; Rankin and Reason, 2005). These predictions create many concerns in institutions of higher learning. As the demographic characteristics of students change, a better understanding of how these changes affect the perceptions of students can help administrators to understand and influence the environment in which institutions exist and upon which they depend for resources (Hu & St. John, 2001; Kleemann and Richardson 1985; Rankin and Reason, 2005). These factors have implications in the definition and assessment of organizational effectiveness.

Individuals are continually laced with the need to make judgments about the effectiveness of organizations (Cameron and Whetten 1983b; Kuh, 1995). For example, a student decides which public school to attend, which company's stock to purchase, or which college to attend. These decisions and many more depend on judgments of organizational effectiveness. Several researchers have suggested the need for a meaningful analysis (Cameron 1978a, 1981b, 1986b; Cameron and Whetten 1983a; Ghorpade 1971; Goodman and Pennings 1977; Karemera, Reuben, and Sillah 2003; Kleemann and Richardson 1985; Kuh and Hu 2001a; Mott 1972; Price 1968, 1972a; Rankin and Reason, 2005; Spray 1976; Steers 1975, 1977; Zammuto 1982).

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this research concerns the perceptions of Business students enrolled at Texas Woman's University (TWU) and University of North Texas (UNT) regarding the effectiveness of the colleges. The purpose of this study is to determine, evaluate, and analyze students' needs and their perceptions of the effectiveness of their universities. In order to carry out this study, it is necessary to develop a definition of "effectiveness" grounded in the professional literature. Effectiveness can be defined as an organization's ability to identify its strategic constituencies and to satisfy the demands they place upon the organization (Kleemann & Richardson, 1985; Miles, 1980). This definition has been operationalized as the congruence between students' perceptions of the importance of an activity and activity's perceived level of achievement (Kleemann & Richardson, 1985).

Methodology

The first step in sampling was to define the target population. The research population was made up of business students from the Texas Woman's University (TWU) and University of North Texas (UNT). Because of the nature of the study, business students were chosen in an effort to assure that the criteria and the main point of the study were met. Data were collected from a sample of 660 business students at the two universities.

The two institutions are public and state institutions. The enrollment of undergraduate business students was approximately 500 at TWU and approximately 6,000 at UNT in the fall of 2001. The total number of undergraduate seniors enrolled was approximately 125 at TWU and approximately 2300 at LINT. One institution had predominantly female students and the other was coeducational. The average age of respondent at both institutions was 22.6. After the questionnaires were returned, data were entered into the proper form for computation in order to provide the mean ratings; the lowest and highest rated factors for the respective institutions, the standard deviation of the ratings, and the lowest and the highest rated factors for each student subpopulation. Descriptive statistics were used in all items, and using appropriate tests made group comparisons. Stepwise multiple linear regression was used to address the question, do selected demographic variables relate to differences in students' perceptions of effectiveness? Because multiple regression techniques are considered to be the most appropriate statistical procedure when analyzing the relationship between a single dependent variable and several independent variables, they were employed in this analysis. The choice of techniques was based on its general analytic ability to handle all types of variables including cases of missing data and unequal group size (Kerlinger 1986). Formulation of conclusions and recommendations was consistent with the data.

Explanation of Activity Domains

The development of a description for each activity domain was the first step necessary in formulating an assessment. Fifty-four statements describing specific university activities were distributed in ten activity domains. Commonalities among the activity statements in each activity domain were interpreted and a succinct description was determined. Domains of activity that were used to describe the 10 areas of services provided for students as measured by the survey instrument were: (a) programs and services for students, (b) emphasis of minorities and women, (c) quality of research and teaching, (d) dissemination of research and knowledge, (e) workshops and counseling to broaden access, (f) athletics, (g) support of cultural activities, (h) availability of graduate programs, (I) leasing of facilities, and (j) increase of standards. Items for each activity domain are explained below.

The sixteen activity statements in the first domain described a variety of programs and services that are provided for university students. The seven activity statements in the second domain included recruiting, conducting research, admitting, tutoring, and providing information. Because all of these activities concerned the provision of services to minority and female students in order to provide them access to university resources and to success, this domain was defined as emphasizing minorities and women. The six activity statements in the third domain relate to research and teaching. Because quality was an implied value in each of these activities, this domain was described as quality of research and teaching. Of the seven activity statements in domain four, four concerned research and the dissemination of research results and three concerned the general dissemination of knowledge. Therefore, domain four was described as research knowledge dissemination. The six activity statements that made up domain five involved offering workshops, counseling, and courses to help expand skills and meet nonacademic learning needs. Because these activities provide students support and access to university, this domain was described as offering workshops and counseling to broaden access. The three activity statements in domain six concerned athletics; therefore, this domain was described as athletics. The two activity statements in domain seven concerned the sponsoring of cultural activities. Domain eight included three items that concerned the offering of graduate programs. The two items in domain nine concerned the leasing of university facilities, and the two activities in domain ten concerned the increasing of standards.

Procedure

Business students at UNT and TWU are required to take other courses beyond their discipline; therefore these students will likely represent the total population of business students. A visit was made to all undergraduate business classes, which all business students are required to take, requesting that students participate in the study. Because the required courses are at undergraduate levels the sample may as well represent the total population of business students. The instrument was administered during the fall semester 2001 to a sample of 660 business students at TWU and UNT following standard survey procedures. The survey format requests that respondents indicate the importance of each activity, as well as how well it is being accomplished on a five-point Likert-type scale (strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree). At UNT, 533 of the 550 students enrolled in a representative sample of 10 classes completed questionnaires for a response rate of 96.9%. At TWU, 106 of 110 students enrolled in a representative sample of five classes completed questionnaires for a response rate of 96.4%.

Results

The three measurements involved in the research findings were the importance (priority) of the activity domain, how well the domain was performed (achievement), and the effectiveness distance measure (EDM) for the domain. TWU and UNT students' perceptions of their universities were similar in many ways. In some cases, they differed as well. Table 1 details this analysis. Students at both universities gave a high level of priority to domains concerning the quality of academic and student life. The domains given least priority by students were emphasis on minorities and women, the leasing of facilities, and the increasing of standards. See issue website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/spr2005.htm>

Students at both TWU and UNT perceived the sponsoring of cultural activities as the activity domain most effectively accomplished. Provision of programs and services for students were perceived as the second most effectively provided domain. LINT students rated quality of research and teaching, athletics, and offering graduate programs higher than did their TWU counterparts. TWU students perceived emphasis on minorities and women, athletics, and sponsoring cultural activities as effective domains. Students generally perceived the provision of programs and services for students, the quality of research and teaching, the offering of graduate programs, and the offering of workshops and counseling to broaden access, to be domains, which were less effective at both TWU and UNT.

A regression model was used to examine the influence of age, gender, campus residence, and ethnicity, receipt of financial aid, grade point average, political description, and classification on whether perceptions of the effectiveness of domains varied as a function of student characteristics. In many cases, but not all, the variables examined revealed a statistically significant difference in the students' perceptions of effectiveness (see Table 2 below). The data presented in this study are consistent with the analysis by (Graham and Gisi, 2000; Karemera, Reuben, and Sillah 2003; Kleemann and Richarson, 1985; Rankin and Reason, 2005; Smith, and 1990). See issue website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/spr2005.htm>

Because the targeted population was well represented by the large number of participants in the study, a strong congruence seems likely between the sample and the population at the time the study was conducted. A comparison of the two groups on the basis of four characteristics--gender, ethnic background, residence, and age--indicates that this is essentially true. The percentage of Hispanic students responding from TWU was greater than would be expected for the student body as a whole. The percentages of Native American and Asian students responding at both UNT and TWU were just slightly greater than percentages for all students at the two institutions (see Table 3 below). See issue website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/spr2005.htm>

Data presented in Tables 1, 2, and 3 are consistent with analysis by (Graham and Gisi, 2000; Rankin and Reason, 2005; and Smith, 1990). A small contribution to explained variance in perceptions was found except for the effect of financial aid on emphasis on minorities and women. The pattern, which emerged, however, was that White students were not as critical as Black students, Hispanics students, and Asian students. Students who were younger than 26 years were more critical of the various organizational activities than students who were older than 25 years, students who were not receiving financial aid were less critical than those receiving aid, and students living on campus were less critical than students living off campus. In addition, the results of this study support Kleemann and Richardson's (1985) findings that politically conservative students were less critical than politically liberal students; students with lower grade point averages (lower than 2.0) were less critical than students with higher grade point averages (higher than 2.0) and freshman students were less critical than graduate students.

Discussion

The provision of programs and services for students was assigned top priority by both TWU and UNT students. Students agreed almost as much on the second priority, the quality of research and teaching. Students also agreed on the importance of the domains dealing with the offering of graduate programs, the leasing of facilities, and the increasing of standards. However, differences appeared for domain 2, which dealt with a series of affirmative action statements. TWU students attached higher importance to this cluster of activities than did UNT students. Significantly, UNT students ranked this domain next to last in priority. Many of the pressures to which UNT must respond regarding emphasis on minorities in Texas relate to the university's competition with larger universities. The domain concerning workshops and counseling to broaden access was most popular with TWU students and least popular with UNT students, who tended to equate new services with more cost to students.

Domain 10--increasing standard, which dealt with a series of quality statements, was given least priority by both TWU and UNT students. The fact that intercollegiate athletics was at or near the bottom of the importance rankings for both TWU and UNT was expected. The survey results reflect more similarities than differences between TWU and UNT students in terms of the importance attached to each of the activities. Teaching, research, and services were given high priority by students at both TWU and UNT. All domains received at least some support from both groups. This finding lends strong support to earlier findings by (Graham and Gisi, 2000; Karemera, Reuben, and Sillah 2003; Kleemann and Richarson, 1985; Rankin and Reason, 2005; and Smith, 1990). For details see Table 1.

Conclusions

The results of this study indicate that the characteristics of students influence their perceptions of the effectiveness of the university they attend. Thus, as student characteristics change over time, the impact of changes in characteristics on students' perceptions of the effectiveness of universities should be monitored. Close examination of demographic data reveals a continuing challenge for institutions of higher education in the future. This implies that current student characteristics should be considered when creating or changing the university environment.

The necessity for universities to keep in contact with the student's level of satisfaction with university responses was evidenced in the 1960s and early 1970s, when students revolted because administrators had allowed the programs of their universities to become out of reach with the needs and concerns of students (Hecklinger 1972; Connolly, Conlon, and Deutsch 1980). As the demographic characteristics of students change, a better understanding of how these changes affect the perceptions of students can help administrators to understand and influence the environment in which institutions exist and upon which they depend for resources (Hu & St. John, 2001; Karemera, Reuben, and Sillah 2003; Kleemann and Richardson 1985; Rankin and Reason, 2005).

The universities that take action now to meet the needs of students in the 2000s will be able to maintain and increase their enrollments in the coming years. The needs of subgroups should be considered as specific domains affect them. For example, students who are employed will choose a school because of the availability of classes at the hours they can attend; minority students will choose schools that are sensitive to their specific needs; less capable students will choose institutions that offer remedial programs; and single parents will look for universities that provide child care programs.

References

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Rankin, Susan, R. and Reason Robert, D. (2005). Differing Perceptions: How Students of Color and White Students Perceived Campus Climate for Underrepresented Groups. Journal of College Student Development 46, 1 (January-February): 43-60

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Felix U. Kamuche, Assistant Professor at Morehouse College, received his Ph.D. from the University of North Texas. His teaching and research interests are in quantitative methods.
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Title Annotation:Colleges
Author:Kamuche, Felix U.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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