Perceptions of Success by Non-Traditional Article Critique

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[. . .] The authors also draw from Jacoby's (1993) SPAR (Services, Programs, Advocacy, and Research) model, with the five categories used to organize the survey data reflecting the services aspect of Jacoby's work.

Sample selection -- how and why participants were selected and the extent to which participants are representative. Two age-differentiated groups of students living off campus made up the representative sample. Interestingly, the researchers analyzing data from a survey mailed to students living off-campus in 1990, which is eight years prior to this study. The population is known to the researchers (2,886 students aged 25 years or more, and 7,250 students aged 25 years or less). The survey was mailed to 33% of the older students, and to 10% of the younger students. A 63% return rate resulted in 1,061 completed surveys, of which 347 were nontraditional undergraduates and 430 were traditional graduates. The authors explain why graduate students and students living on campus were excluded from the study. That approximately 100 fewer surveys were returned by non-traditional students -- who experience more demands on their time -- is not surprising, and an issue the sampling strategy should have anticipated. Gender and ethnicity were similar for both groups.

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Data collection methods -- transparency of explanation, adequacy, and appropriate to research question; role of researcher. The researchers used extant data from what they describe as two samples of off-campus students at a Midwestern state university. Survey participants responded to questions about demographic and social attributes typical of non-traditional students. In all instances, data was gathered on the students' perceived need for services and not on actual use of any services.

Article Critique on Perceptions of Success by Non-Traditional Assignment

Data analysis -- explanation. Senter and Senter (1998) established a four-point index, such that zero on the index scale indicated that adult roles had not yet been assumed by a student, while a score of three referred to students who were married, had children, and worked full-time. Survey data in this study was subjected to quantitative analysis as well as qualitative. A Chi-square analysis was used to test for significance between distributions of responses across the rating scale categories; however, this analysis is not discussed in the findings and is superfluous. Percentages of student responses, by student groups, indicating a need for explicit services or no desire for those services were presented for five categories of services. These percentages lend themselves to visual analysis. Further, the results are not unexpected. Only two of the five categories included services that are frequently associated with non-traditional students. These two categories (Delivery Systems, Nontraditional Student Services) are the only categories in which nontraditional undergraduates reported a greater need for services in order to be successful in college.

Senter and Senter (1998) looked at the social determinants of student needs, and did perform a one-way analysis of variance on the data intended to explore the influence of objective social roles, subjective identification, and demographic factors on non-traditional student's perceived needs for services. A close read of this analysis suggests that the authors were attempting to explain away the disparities among data sets based on an age-based analysis and data that resulted from more complex student profiles showing a mix of demographic data.

Data quality as it relates to credibility, transferability, dependability, and conformability. Quantitative analysis strategies were employed to enhance the credibility, dependability, and conformability of the data; however, qualitative strategies were not applied. There is no evidence of triangulation. Senter and Senter (1998) note the limitations of their sample but suggest that the sample is typical of similar colleges and the data is reasonably transferable.

Descriptive data, raw data display, and interpretations of data. It is important to note that this study used extant data, and though the researchers report that the data provided "extensive detail on student needs, offered a viable source of comparable data" (Senter & Senter, 1998, p.272), the survey questions, though not incompatible with the research question, were also not developed to obtain data specifically related it. The interpretation of available data, as such, was clearly separate from the data display, although effective use of display tables was a characteristic of the qualitative data.

A construct underlying this study was that age was a primary basis for the type and scope of student services needed by students. This construct influenced the interpretation of the data. Age, as other research on non-traditional students indicates (Luzius & Webb, 2002), may not be the most influential factor when exploring the perceived needs of non-traditional students. Rather, the level of responsibilities that exist in addition to the coursework undertaken, study time, and classroom attendance permit a student to partake in the range of services and programs offered on-campus, and duly influence his or her perception of support needs.

Maintenance of ethic standards, researcher objectivity, and avoidance of bias in data collection and analysis. An analysis indicating that non-traditional students' needs are being met -- through the programs, services, and infrastructure already in place for traditional students -- would be likely to be well-received by college administration. That the authors are employed by the same university whose extant data they have offered to study warrants consideration of the study and the findings with regard to intent and objectivity.

Research questions -- answered and further investigation indicated. In their conclusions, Senter and Senter (1990) engage in double-speak, first arguing for the viability of their age-based analysis, then explaining the many exceptions to its applicability, and then closing with statements that underscore the limitations of their conceptual framework. By using terms such as subjective identification and objective social roles, which are never fully defined, the authors obscure the data related to the influence of the apparent demands of personal and professional life on non-traditional students.

Generalization and transferability. Early in their discussion, when addressing subjective identification, the authors point out that 88.8% or the nontraditional students identified themselves as non-traditional (this category having been previously based on age) and only 13% of the students of "traditional age" identified themselves as non-traditional students. The authors also report that only 9.5% of the traditional students scored from 1 to 3 on the four-point index, while 77% of the non-traditional students exhibited the objective social roles that would place them from 1 to 3 on the index. Clearly this data, without being subjected to further quantitative analysis, supports the authors conclusion that "a full appreciation of the needs of nontraditional students will not be achieved by…lumping all nontraditional students together," it might be added, by age.

Accessibility of study report. The study discussion employs a plethora of undefined terminology and circuitous, obtuse argument. The authors conclude that "colleges and universities may well be able to serve nontraditional students without a wholesale (and costly) restructuring of campus services. Senter and Senter (1998) do not thoroughly address the problem that non-traditional students may well need different and additional services not listed in the survey. Contrarily, the authors do not comprehensively address the issue that the students might not particularly need the services listed or described in the research. And since the survey did not include open-ended questions, there was no opportunity for the non-traditional student participants to describe services and supports that they may well have perceived that they needed for academic success. Such an approach would have strengthened the findings.

Summary. Two studies were reviewed in preparation for a more in-depth literature search on the topic of the perceptions of non-traditional students with regard to their satisfaction with the array of available supports, services, and programs at the institutions in which they are or were matriculated. Neither study substantially contributed to the literature on the perceptions of non-traditional college students.

The research by Luzius and Webb (2002) reviewed in this paper certainly had potential for a thorough exploration of the experiences of non-traditional students accessing library services in their institution, however, the study was not sufficiently elegant in design to produce robust data relevant to the apparent research question.

The work of Senter and Senter (1998) discussed in this review was hindered by its reliance on extant data, and an emphasis on self-identification of roles as either traditional or non-traditional students. The role exploration aspect of the study, while useful for psychological or sociological research, did little to contribute to an understanding of the non-traditional students' perceptions of the adequacy of the provision of services and programs at the college under study.


Luzius, J. & Webb, B. (2002, Fall). Nontraditional students' library satisfaction. Library Philosophy and Practice, 5(1). Retrieved March 3, 2011, from University of Washington Libraries J. Gate Open Access at

Senter, M.S. & Senter, R. Jr. (1998). A comparative study of traditional and nontraditional students' identities and needs. Journal of Student Affairs Research & Practice, 35(4). Retrieved on March 3, 2011, from University of Washington Libraries Web site Open J. Gate at [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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