Learning Objectives & Outcomes
- Understand the need to intentionally and regularly gather information about how students experience the college.
- Understand how to decide which method of understanding the student experience (focus groups, secret shoppers, or student surveys ) may be best given a particular situation.
- Plan for the implementation of focus groups, secret shoppers, and student surveys at their college.
Many community college leaders understand the importance of collecting and analyzing data to identify student access and success gaps, measure progress in closing those gaps, and ultimately determine whether or not a student success initiative has “worked.” This was not always the case. Anecdotal stories about the remarkable success of one student, a few students, or a few hundred students often obscured the negative outcomes experienced by thousands of other students. At community colleges, where an average of 60 to 70 percent of students fail to graduate and pernicious equity gaps persist, data have been used by leaders to shed light on the urgent need for reform.
But as important as analyzing data to assess student outcomes is, so too is engaging in rigorous analysis of the student experience. Data are essential to understanding which students struggle, but the student voice is needed to understand why and to bring the data to life.
Quite often, what students experience at community college is different from what faculty and administrators assume it is. Processes for course registration, tutoring, advising, financial aid, and other critical student services are often designed to be “user-friendly,” but students may not experience them as such. Processes are also designed with certain assumptions in mind about what students are struggling most with—what stands in the way of their success—but if these assumptions are incorrect, the processes will be flawed. For these reasons, leaders must regularly take steps to understand the student experience. In this module, participants will explore three strategies for gathering information about how students experience the college: student surveys, focus groups, and “secret shoppers.”
- Rassen, E., Chaplot, P., Jenkins, D., & Johnstone, R. Understanding the student experience through the loss/momentum framework: Clearing the path to completion. Completion by Design, The RP Group, & Community College Research Center. Retrieved from http://inquiry2improvement.com/attachments/article/12/CbD-Understanding.pdf
- WestEd & Public Agenda. (2012, January). Student focus group resource guide. Completion by Design. Retrieved from http://www.compact.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Student-Focus-Group-Resource-Guide-FINAL_0.pdf
- Kick-Off Activity
- Capturing the Student Experience Through Student Surveys
- Key Learning
- Group Application Activity: Planning for Student Surveys
- Capturing the Student Experience Through Focus Groups
- Key Learning
- Group Application Activity: Plan a Focus Group
- Capturing the Student Experience Through Secret Shoppers
- Key Learning
- Individual Application Activity: Plan a Secret Shopper Exercise
- Appendix: Student Experience Question Examples