Innov High Educ DOI 10.


The Adult Student and Course Satisfaction: What Matters Most?
George F. Howell & Jeffrey M. Buck

# Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Abstract Student satisfaction with a course is important because it can contribute to student retention, and it can also be used as one way to assess faculty effectiveness. This investigative work suggests that course satisfaction among non-traditional, adult students seeking business degrees is positively influenced by giving attention to four specific service-based factors. Based on feedback from 1,725 such students and 214 instructors at five institutions of higher education, a service-based model of course satisfaction is proposed. This model focuses on four manageable variables that are observed as influencing adult students’ satisfaction with a business course: relevancy of subjectmatter, faculty subject-matter competency, faculty classroom management, and student workload. Key words Student satisfaction . Services marketing . Adult education Understanding and meeting student expectations can result in improved levels of student satisfaction (Elliott and Shin 2002; Kress 2006; Wright and O'Neill 2002). Improved student satisfaction is important for higher education institutions serving non-traditional, adult
George Howell is Associate Professor of Marketing in the School of Business & Leadership at Indiana Wesleyan University. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Ripon College, an M.B.A. from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a D. B. A. from Anderson University. His research and teaching interests include services marketing, customer satisfaction, and adult education. Jeffrey Buck currently serves as Professor of Marketing and Director of M.B.A. programs in the Falls School of Business at Anderson University. He holds B.S. and M.B.A. degrees from Ball State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi. His research and teaching interests include services marketing, strategic management, and organizational loyalty and change. G. F. Howell (*) School of Business & Leadership, Indiana Wesleyan University, 1900 West 50th Street, Marion, IN 46953-9393, USA e-mail: J. M. Buck Falls School of Business, Anderson University, 1303 East 5th Street, Anderson, IN 46012, USA e-mail:

the application of these marketing insights and perspectives can assist in developing a better understanding of the meaningful roles and influences associated with various stakeholders. adult students. approach to classroom management. Combining existing research in the areas of services marketing and student satisfaction . As such. and institution-driven aspects of service as they relate to student course satisfaction. and desire to interact with students are important contributions toward the student experience. and the institution itself can be viewed as contributors to service experiences and thus worthy of exploration. Of particular relevance for higher education. adult student. class location. perceived effort. Pitman 2000). and perceptions related to faculty expertise. and the decision whether or not to use full-time or adjunct faculty members to instruct a class. Wright and O'Neill 2002). The Journal of Service Management. institutions of higher education are becoming more and more attentive to student enrollment issues (Holley and Harris 2010. Kranzow and Hyland 2011. the Journal of Service Research. albeit controversial. or course instructors. the service-related issues that are important to non-traditional. Examples of these elements are decisions regarding class size. which in the classroom is the faculty member (Wright and O'Neill 2002). perspective of the student as a consumer of a service requires an improved understanding regarding the various faculty-driven. Toward this end. Faculty members. 2001. A faculty member’s competency. Research suggests that a quality education experience is influenced by the frontline provider. the faculty. These dimensions include grade expectations. these are factors under the direct control of an institution’s administration. Unfortunately. The expanding. there is the practice and acceptance of portraying and treating students as consumers of a service (Desai et al. An institution can set itself apart from others by being familiar with. there is limited understanding as to what course related service issues matter most to the non-traditional. and Managing Service Quality are just a few examples of peer reviewed journals that focus on the subject. Scholarly research in the discipline of marketing provides several recommendations related to the dimensions and delivery of a quality service experience. and acting upon. there currently exists an insufficient understanding of course related service activities and the influence they can have on satisfaction among non-traditional. Ultimately students are co-producers of the classroom experience. students. the Journal of Services Research. Institutions are increasingly interested in examining the effects of student satisfaction and its contribution to student retention (Kress 2006. These student contributions have the potential to impact an individual’s level of satisfaction. student-driven. Conceptual Framework Regarding Course Satisfaction Motivated by a number of factors. Students also have an influence on the service aspects of education.Innov High Educ students because it has the potential to become a distinctive advantage in an environment that is highly competitive. the Services Industry Journal. Specifically. adult students. Correspondingly. can be perceived as service providers with the ability to influence student experiences through the manipulation of actions within their control. Quay and Quaglia 2004). Student-driven service aspects can be defined as those dimensions that are under the direct control of the student. Institution-driven service aspects can be defined as those remaining service-related elements that are not directly influenced by the faculty member or student. the Journal of Services Marketing.

and there is a need for clarity regarding terminology and variable definition. several topics emerge as areas worthy of further detailed study. As with any proposed conceptual framework.Innov High Educ creates an appropriate foundation for the development of a conceptual framework which can be used for investigating the potential impact that service-based activities can have on course satisfaction among adult students. 1 Conceptual framework regarding student course satisfaction . operational definitions are provided for the variables presented in this proposed conceptual framework. Figure 1 illustrates a conceptual framework that is derived from the convergence of research in these areas. As such. Class Size Institution Driven Service Aspects (H4) Class Location (H5) Full-Time Faculty External Customer Mind-Set (H1) (H6) Difference? (H3) General classroom management Student Satisfaction Adjunct Faculty External Customer Mind-Set (H2) Faculty Subjectmatter Competency Faculty Driven Service Aspects (H7) Faculty-Student Interaction (H8) Grades (H9) (H10) Student Driven Service Aspects Student Workload Relevancy of Subject-matter (H11) Fig.

Full-time faculty member describes an individual hired full-time to instruct classes. Seiler and Seiler 2002. 2005). The scope of this study examined onsite students. 2005. interaction with smaller student groups such as project teams. 159). (2001). Summers et al. General Classroom Management This is a measure of classroom structure and control as exhibited by the instructor. and we used their faculty-student interaction measure for our study. . General classroom management is one of four critical success factors of good instruction as developed by Desai et al. It is one of the four major areas of effective instruction as defined by Desai et al. and instructor’s preparation for class (Krehbiel and McClure 1997. Yanhong Li and Kaye 1999). An adjunct faculty member is an individual hired part-time and on a contract basis to teach classes. whether internal or external. (2002) described customer mind-set. 2002). as well as other activities. and we used their general classroom management measure. Such interaction might include one-to-many interaction with the class as a whole such as in lectures and class discussion. External Customer Mindset of Faculty Kennedy et al. Faculty Status Defined as either full-time or adjunct. For the purpose of this study. is central to the proper execution of his or her job” (p. or interaction with students on a one-to-one basis such as clarifying requirements for assignments during a break in the class. such as research and committee work. Grade This represents the grade a student expects to receive at the completion of a course. (2001). awareness of recent developments in the field (Anderson et al. Faculty Subject-Matter Competency This describes students’ perception of an instructor’s expertise and organization of the course subject matter. Weinrauch and Matejka 1973. In this work. For this study. the student self-reported the final grade they believed they would receive in the referenced course. An institution can have classes meeting in facilities on its campus or meet at an offsite location not owned by the institution such as a hotel conference room or corporate facility. organization of course materials. In this study these perceptions were measured by the aggregate of five items used in prior studies on faculty performance.Innov High Educ Class Location This is the physical location where a class meets. Class Size This represents the number of students in a class. 2005). 2002. and in this research it is the student. A modified version of the Kennedy et al. as the “extent to which an individual employee believes that understanding and satisfying customers. the investigation of online students is an area for future research. ability to explain and clarify difficult aspects of the subject (Anderson et al. Summers et al. external customer mind-set construct is used to quantify and measure this variable. The five items are depth of knowledge regarding the subject (Summers et al. class location is categorized as either on-campus or off-campus. class size becomes a student perception measurement and is captured through a raw numeric response provided by the student. Faculty-Student Interaction This term describes the interaction activities initiated by the faculty member in the classroom. An external customer is a consumer.

timing and scheduling of course assignments (Harvey 2001). Specific items used to measure this attitude come from prior research and practice. 2005). overall quality of classroom and facilities (Harvey 2001. Summers et al. 2002).Innov High Educ Relevancy of Subject Matter This term describes student perceptions of the practical application of course material. These fundamental questions and related hypotheses are summarized in Table I. Tan and Kek 2004). the helpfulness of the course in preparing for a job (Harvey 2001). 2002). Wiers-Jenssen et al. Relevancy of subject matter is measured by the aggregate score of four items examined in previous research. Wiers-Jenssen et al. At . Survey Instruments and Sample Groups To address the research questions and hypotheses. Wiers-Jenssen et al. 2002. and course content. Participating schools either accepted this IRB approval or provided their own approval to conduct human subject research. modified. and prepare for a class. Mustafa and Chiang 2006. 1995. 2005). We obtained approval for human subject research through the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the home institution of the lead author. study. Summers et al. 2002). assessment of the instructor. Richardson 2005). We employed two distinct and different survey instruments to collect the primary data – one survey instrument designed for faculty and one designed for students. The systematic testing of these questions provides a progressive step in creating an enhanced understanding of the potential impact that service-based activities can have on course satisfaction among adult students. amount of course content for the time period of the course (Hill 1995. knowing what the student knows. 2004. Student Satisfaction Overall student satisfaction summarizes the following attributes: the course as a whole. overall quality of instructor (Indiana Wesleyan University 2006). Summers et al. Both instruments were reviewed. Schools affiliated with the Consortium for the Advancement of Adult Higher Education (CAAHE) were identified. 2002). and projective behavior based on experience. we analyzed primary data collected through survey research. The Study A review of the conceptual framework generates a number of questions worthy of exploration. 2005). and invited to provide participants for this study. in other words. and overall personal relevance and usefulness (Mustafa and Chiang 2006. Student workload is measured by the aggregate score of five items used in previous studies: reasonableness of work in this course (Mustafa and Chiang 2006. Student Workload This describes the student’s perceptions regarding the amount of work and time to complete course assignments. These items include the usefulness of this course in personal career development (Tan and Kek 2004). volume of work in the course (Mustafa and Chiang 2006. Shank et al. 2002. would they choose this course again (Indiana Wesleyan University 2006. the apparent practical application of course subject-matter (Anderson et al. study time and class preparation (Hamilton et al. and assessed through a series of pilot studies. contacted. the intent to recommend the school to a friend (Indiana Wesleyan University 2006. They include overall quality of course (Hamilton et al. Bastova et al.

effect student satisfaction? Is there a relationship between the general management of a classroom and student satisfaction? H3: There is no statistically significant difference between the external customer mind-set of full-time faculty and the external customer mind-set of adjunct faculty. agreed to provide subjects for the study. classroom? Is there a relationship between the external customer H2: There is no statistically significant relationship mind-set of adjunct professors and student between the external customer mind-set of adjunct perceptions of the general classroom management faculty and the student rating of general classroom of the classroom? management. Is there a relationship between faculty subject-matter H7: There is no statistically significant relationship competency and student satisfaction? between faculty subject-matter competency and student satisfaction. H6: There is no statistically significant relationship between general classroom management and student satisfaction. and the southeastern regions of the United States. d. the upper east coast. Each of the institutions providing subjects for the study are categorized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as “4-year or above [and] not-forprofit” (n. H5: There is no statistically significant relationship between class location and student satisfaction. The participating institutions provided subjects representing two groups of individuals: 1) faculty members serving as instructors of record for a business course in an adult business degree program and 2) students who were enrolled in courses designed for nontraditional. These five schools are geographically dispersed. Is there a relationship between student workload and H10: There is no statistically significant relationship student satisfaction? between student workload and student satisfaction.). a decision was made to exclude this school and limit participation to only not-for-profit institutions. five CAAHE institutions. Ultimately. Since it is possible that the marketing and management philosophies differ between for-profit and not-for-profit institutions. out of the remaining nineteen institutions. the midwest.Innov High Educ Table I Summary of research questions and testable hypotheses Research Question Hypothesis Is there a relationship between the external customer H1: There is no statistically significant relationship between the external customer mind-set of full-time mind-set of full-time professors and student faculty and the student rating of general classroom perceptions of the general management of the management. representing the pacific northwest. Is there a difference between full-time faculty and adjunct faculty in regards to external customer mind-set? Is there a relationship between the number of students in a class and student satisfaction? Does class location (on-campus versus off-campus). Is there a relationship between faculty-student interaction in the classroom and student satisfaction? Is there a relationship between an anticipated grade for a class and student satisfaction? H8: There is no statistically significant relationship between faculty-student interaction in the classroom and student satisfaction. the time of this study there were twenty member schools in CAAHE. There is one member institution of CAAHE that we did not invite to participate in this study because it is a forprofit institution. H9: There is no statistically significant relationship between grades and student satisfaction. adult business degree-seeking students. H4: There is no statistically significant relationship between class size and student satisfaction. Is there a relationship between the relevancy of subject-matter and student satisfaction? H11: There is no statistically significant relationship between the relevancy of the subject-matter and student satisfaction. The potential faculty sample group included both full-time and adjunct business professors teaching in business degree .

Cronbach alphas are in an acceptable range of . In addition. with instructions on how to administer the student surveys. and the analyses indicate no institution-based effect. with the faculty survey and student surveys. adult. approximately 2 to 3 weeks before the end of a course. and ultimately their feedback was treated as a single response. business degree seeking students. to the instructor in the course. These instructors represented each of the five selected institutions. A volunteer school representative delivered the survey packets.520 adult students who were enrolled in these same face-to-face classes as identified by the institution. student surveys were matched with their instructor. however the approach is ineffective for addressing the data distribution normality issue for the general classroom management variable. Furthermore. and these courses provided an appropriate sample group. Response Rates Data collection occurred during a 60-day time period. and surveys were eliminated if they were incomplete. or nextto-last. The potential student sample included 5. improves the data distribution normality for customer mind-set. class session of a course. the surveys were completed in the last.725 student responses. Initial testing for the normality of the data distribution demonstrates acceptability among the study variables with two exceptions. identification and elimination of extraordinary observations. Inter-item correlation values are below .80. or outliers.771 to . Thus. Results Hypotheses Testing Cronbach alpha tests and inter-item correlation matrices analyses demonstrate acceptable reliability for the primary data. and student surveys that could not be matched with a faculty member’s response were eliminated. While this could be viewed as a limitation of the study. The student surveys were first examined for completeness. Logarithm and squared term techniques are ineffective in transforming the data for these variables to a normal distribution pattern. and a 47% response rate among part-time adjunct faculty members resulted in an additional 175 participants.942. The response rate for the faculty represents a unique faculty member submission. indicating an absence of potential multicollinearity. In total 214 instructors participated in the study. The decision was made to forgo a detailed analysis of the course syllabi for these courses since CAHHE affiliated schools offer similar programs and curricula targeted toward working adults. A 78% response rate among full-time faculty members resulted in 39 participants. an averaging procedure was utilized. analyses were conducted to determine the likely influence of a single institution. If multiple surveys were received from the same faculty member teaching multiple classes during this time. which represents a 31% response rate. the design and scope of this study was to examine course satisfaction of non-traditional.Innov High Educ completion programs that utilize classroom settings. As with the instructor responses. and statistical analyses indicated no differences in participants based upon institution affiliation or faculty status. Both the faculty external customer mind-set and general classroom management variables exhibit non-normal data distribution. this group included 50 full-time and 374 adjunct faculty members. The elimination of incomplete and non-matching surveys resulted in 1. Despite .

793 Accept . Therefore. suggesting that approximately 70% of an observed variance in student satisfaction with a course can be explained by four variables: relevancy of subject-matter. The analysis of the data led us to reject six of the eleven hypotheses. we considered it appropriate to forgo any data transformation and instead implement a two-phase procedure for hypotheses testing.703. The value and skills related to good preparation and good classroom management can be translated and grasped by faculty members. student workload. we identified five variables that have statistically significant correlations with student satisfaction. we examined the rejected hypotheses using the nonparametric Spearman Rank Correlation Coefficient test. we eliminated the faculty-student interaction variable. general classroom management. The practice of developing relevant course content while at the same time requiring an appropriate course workload. H5: There is no statistically significant relationship between class location and student satisfaction. Assessment H3: There is no statistically significant difference between the external customer mind-set .Innov High Educ the existence of two variables with non-normal data distribution. The model connects research in services marketing with research on student outcomes and satisfaction. faculty subject-matter competency. Table V provides the coefficients. we utilized independent sample t-tests and univariate regression analyses when appropriate. . To test the hypotheses. 204) when large samples are used in regression analysis. As a result. III. and IV summarize the results and assessments related to the various hypotheses. We believe that it is easy to understand. the multiple regression analysis calculated an R2 of . and general classroom management as the independent variables effecting student satisfaction with a course. and apply. significance levels. explain. credence is given to Weisberg’s (2005) contention that “…normality is much less important” (p. Tables II. we present a proposed services-based model of course satisfaction with relevancy of subjectmatter. faculty subject matter competency.977 Accept of full-time faculty and the external customer mind-set of adjunct faculty. Based on the results. In the best-fit model. A Service-Based Model of Student Course Satisfaction The impetus for this study was to develop an understanding of the course-related services that matter most to the adult student seeking a business degree. A stepwise multiple regression analysis using these variables is helpful in creating a better understanding of the interaction and combined strength of the relationships. and student workload. are controllable activities to which faculty members can give attention if student satisfaction is a desired outcome. Multiple Regression Analysis Based on the results of the hypotheses tests. Table II Summary of hypotheses test using t-test of two sample means Hypothesis Sig. Subsequently. Figure 2 provides an illustration of the proposed model. and variance inflations factors calculated through the multiple regression testing procedure.

013 . H11: There is no statistically significant relationship between .000 Reject Very Weak Moderate Strong . H7: There is no statistically significant relationship between .591 general classroom management and student satisfaction.000 Reject competency and student satisfaction.000 Reject . Table IV Summary of hypotheses testing using Spearman’s Rho Hypothesis Spearman’s Strength of Rho Association Moderate Strong Sig. .000 Reject H11: There is no statistically significant relationship between the relevancy of subject-matter and student satisfaction.725 student participants. Assessment H1: There is no statistically significant relationship between the external customer .591 student workload and student satisfaction.000 Reject .629 faculty subject-matter competency and student satisfaction. This model and the acknowledged limitations of the study generate several opportunities and recommendations for practitioners and academicians.016 . .Innov High Educ Table III Summary of hypotheses test using univariate regression analysis Hypothesis R2 Sig. H6: There is no statistically significant relationship between general classroom management and student satisfaction.540 faculty-student interaction in the classroom and student satisfaction.112 grades and student satisfaction. a service-oriented course satisfaction model is proposed.461 . Recommendations and Conclusions This study surveyed instructors and students in adult business degree programs at five different institutions of higher education.000 Reject H10: There is no statistically significant relationship between student workload and .349 . H8: There is no statistically significant relationship between faculty-student interaction in the classroom and student satisfaction H9: There is no statistically significant relationship between grades and student satisfaction.000 Reject Moderate .000 Reject . Based on the findings. .002 . H8: There is no statistically significant relationship between .000 Reject student satisfaction.000 Reject . H10: There is no statistically significant relationship between .086 Accept mind-set of adjunct faculty and student rating of the general classroom management. H9: There is no statistically significant relationship between . The survey methodology resulted in 214 faculty respondents and 1.698 the relevancy of subject-matter and student satisfaction.471 . Assessment H6: There is no statistically significant relationship between .107 Accept satisfaction. H4: There is no statistically significant relationship between class size and student .002 .000 Reject . .333 .287 .000 Reject H7: There is no statistically significant relationship between faculty subject-matter .022 Accept mind-set of full-time faculty and student rating of the general classroom management. H2: There is no statistically significant relationship between the external customer .

158 p-value (.703 df = 1. At the Relevancy of Subject-matter ß = .342 p-value (.158 0.343 0.343 p-value (. external customer mind-set was found to have an inconsequential impact on student course satisfaction.000 0.Innov High Educ Table V Coefficients for the four explanatory variables Variable Relevancy of Subject-Matter Faculty Subject-Matter Competency General Classroom Management Student Workload β 0. and it is also one of the four explanatory variables in the proposed student satisfaction model. faculty members should be encouraged to focus on their performance related to general classroom management.151 Significance 0.899 1.000) Student Workload ß = . Furthermore. Moreover.000) StudentDriven Service Aspects FacultyDriven Service Aspects Student Satisfaction General classroom management ß = .413 2. The general classroom management items developed by Desai et al.000 0.724 Significance = 0.000 0.342 0.000) R = . The data in this study indicate no statistically significant difference between adjunct and fulltime faculty members regarding their external customer mind-set. (2001) provide a useful set of nineteen specific elements on which instructors can focus their efforts. developing and using end-of-course surveys which include the general customer management construct will allow administrators the opportunity to assess faculty performance and contribute to faculty development plans when student satisfaction is a desired outcome. Therefore.151 p-value (.000) Faculty Subjectmatter Competency ß = .457 Practitioner Implications General classroom management is shown to have a correlated association with student satisfaction.000 Fig.000 VIF 1.015 1. 2 A service-based model of student course satisfaction .838 R Square = .

Conversely. Finally. size. experience. and its market position strategies. and safety tied to the geographic location.. These independent variables in the proposed student satisfaction model provide opportunities for further research in the context of service marketing and higher education. its distinctive features. As a word of caution.. In general. and classroom management skills are strong. individuals have multiple responsibilities that extend beyond their academic studies. The analysis of the survey data suggests that student satisfaction is not effected by classroom location. The effect of interactive television courses on student satisfaction. As such. This finding can help administrators expand their outreach without making a long-term commitment to investments in infrastructure such as new buildings. References Anderson. while this should not diminish academic rigor in any way. is still a topic worthy of further exploration. 164–168. as well as giving attention to the timing and scheduling of formative and summative course assignments. A workload that is perceived as too demanding can have a negative impact on satisfaction. the customer mind-set construct. (2002). the decision to use adjunct faculty should be moderated by other important institutional factors such as an institution’s mission. abilities to make the content relevant. and for-profit institutions of higher education. faculty members teaching a class and administrators marketing the institution’s programs need to manage student perceptions proactively and ultimately ensure a proper balance regarding course expectations. Future research in these areas has the potential to broaden the generalizability of the model. S.Innov High Educ same time. P. Banks. and. being on-campus or off campus makes no difference. its core competencies. Attempting to understand the external customer mind-set of faculty and then assessing how that might ultimately influence student satisfaction was a primary objective of this study. 77(3). L. it is a reality associated with this group that should not be ignored. . convenience sample does potentially limit the generalizability of the findings. other private institutions which are not affiliated with CAAHE. While the data does not suggest a direct relationship between a faculty member’s external customer mind-set and a student’s perceptions of the instructor’s general classroom management. faculty-student interaction. the data suggests subject-matter relevancy and faculty member subject-matter competency to be significant contributors to student satisfaction. and class location do not seem to be influential. cleanliness. The use of a non-probability. & Leary. a recognized limitation of the study is the sample group. In the context of adult students. The Journal of Education for Business. such as adult and traditional student degree programs at public universities and community colleges. such as the number of students in class. the model needs to be tested in other settings of higher education. with its measurement of customer-oriented beliefs and its linkage to the customer orientation component of market orientation. As such. Faculty members can address this in a number of ways. While the study did not measure the quality of specific classroom features such as available technology. it is worthwhile to try and understand why some of the anticipated factors. Analysis of the data identified four variables that can influence student satisfaction with a course. This finding provides support for the appropriate use of adjunct faculty in the classroom when the adjunct faculty member’s subject-matter competency. the findings of the study provide support for the appropriate use of off-campus classroom locations. and some examples include providing clear assignment objectives and expectations upfront. Perceived workload by the student was shown to have an influence on student satisfaction.

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