An exploratory study of faculty and student affairs perceptions of undergraduate learning goals at small liberal arts and large research institutions
Goldstein, Adam Rand
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The increasing specialization of academic disciplines and expanding presence of the cocurriculum in American higher education has led to the evolution of an organizational divide between faculty and student affairs professionals and resulted in poor coordination of the curriculum and co-curriculum. One significant consequence of these developments has been a disjointed educational experience that has negatively affected the quality of student learning (Boyer, 1987; Kellogg Commission, 1999; Wingspread Group, 1993). Recent shifts in the philosophical orientation of student affairs and advancements in scholarship about the learning process and outcomes assessment provide a catalyst for improving student learning. These developments have placed an increased focus on undergraduate learning goals and established a common language for improved dialogue between faculty and student affairs. This study explores differences in perception between faculty and student affairs professionals on undergraduate learning goals at large-research and small-liberal arts institutions. A total of 343 undergraduate faculty and full-time student affairs professionals from eight small liberal arts colleges and six large research universities in the continental United States participated in the study during the spring of 2003 and 2004. Data were gathered using the Student Learning Goals Inventory, an instrument developed by Papish (1999) to assess how university constituent groups perceive the relative importance of specific undergraduate learning goals. Data were analyzed using a MANOVA, one-way ANOVA, independent sample t-tests, and descriptive statistics. This research provides a framework for a guided dialogue between faculty and student affairs about coordination of the undergraduate experience and the quality of student learning. The results demonstrate that faculty and student affairs professionals have a common understanding of the learning goals that are of importance to undergraduate education at their current institutions and share similar perspectives on the learning goals that should receive importance at their ideal institutions. Furthermore, this study confirms available literature regarding differences in undergraduate education at small liberal arts and large research institutions and demonstrates that preferred student affairs philosophy has a strong relationship with the learning goals that faculty and student affairs professionals deem important at their institutions.