Student typologies in higher education

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  • 1Student Typologies in Higher Education

    Shouping Hu, Lindsey Katherine, George D. Kuh

    Since the founding of Harvard College in 1636, American higher educa-tion has undergone a dramatic transformation. College education has long passed the time that only a small number of individuals from elite back-grounds could have it. American higher education today is in a stage of universal access where a diverse student population enrolls in a wide range of types of institutions of higher learning (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2002).

    American higher education can justifi ably claim to be a resounding success for its wide reach to students of different backgrounds and accom-plishments in knowledge discovery, as it is widely considered to be the center of the international knowledge system (Altbach, 1998). It is also facing some persistent criticisms, one of which is the uneven quality of undergraduate education. For example, the National Commission on the Future of Higher Education (2006) was disturbed by evidence that the quality of student learning at U.S. colleges and universities is inadequate and, in some cases, declining (p. 3). In Academically Adrift, Arum and Roksa (2011) reported that a large proportion of students on American campusesat least 40 percentshowed little, if any, gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing ability. Not surprisingly, these disturbing fi ndings reignited the national conversation about the quality of undergraduate education. Clearly there is a need to better understand college students, what they do, and what they gain from the college expe-rience. Such information is needed to design and implement programs that promise to enhance student experiences and improve student learn-ing and personal development.

    This chapter reviews various student typologies developed over time and the stability and change in American college students characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors the typologies reflect.

    5NEW DIRECTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH, Assessment Supplement 2011, Winter 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/ir.413

  • NEW DIRECTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH DOI: 10.1002/ir

    6 ASSESSMENT SUPPLEMENT 2011

    One way to understand the college student experience is the genera-tional approach, which examines the characteristics and attitudes of cohorts across different periods in history. For example, Strauss and Howe (1991) argued it is important to use a generational approach to under-stand social transformation as a generation may share similar dispositions, views, expectations, and needs. Terms such as baby boomers, generation X, and millennials convey powerful images that characterize different genera-tions according to who they are and what they do. Others have asserted that knowing about these patterns can help faculty and staff better under-stand the current generation of students and modify policies, programs, and practices tailored to their needs (Coomes and DeBard, 2004).

    Another way of viewing cohorts of college students within and across time periods is the typological approach (Kuh, Hu, and Vesper, 2000). The operating assumption of this approach is that it is possible to identify distinctive groups with a student body that shares many similarities, the composition of which distinguishes them in meaningful ways from other student groups on the campus or across the postsecondary landscape. With this knowledge, faculty, staff, and scholars can better understand and predict how various groups of students may take advantage of learn-ing opportunities or behave when encountering or experiencing different aspects of college life, inside and outside the classroom (Kuh, 1990; Kuh, Hu, and Vesper, 2000). Although typological approaches do not focus on the process or implications of developmental changes common to traditional-age students, comparing college student typologies from different historical periods can reveal both the similarities and differences of college students over time. This chapter reviews the typologies of col-lege students developed so far and examines the continuity and change of college student characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors the typologies refl ect.

    Student Typologies: Past to Present

    Researchers have long used student typologies to study college students. Astin (1993b) pointed out that it is virtually impossible to carry on a meaningful conversation about American college students without invok-ing taxonomic language (p. 36). Moreover, peers influence most aspects of college student development (Astin, 1993a; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991, 2005). Ones friends and affinity groups can be especially influential in both the quantity and quality of time that students use in college in studying or socializing (Clark and Trow, 1966; Kuh and Whitt, 1988). Flacks and Thomas (2007) stated that going to college affected students values and orientations in many ways, but these effects had much to do with the social worlds students created. These subcultural worlds, rooted in shared social background, were crucibles for collective and individual identity and for the crystallization of attitudes and interests that shaped

  • STUDENT TYPOLOGIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION 7

    NEW DIRECTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH DOI: 10.1002/ir

    the life course of many participants (p. 184). The clustering of attitudes and behaviors that make up a student type, the basis for a student typol-ogy, can lend insight into the potential circle of people students tend to spend time with and help explain peer effects on college outcomes (Kuh, Hu, and Vesper, 2000; Kuh and Whitt, 1988).

    One of the most cited typologies is that of Clark and Trow (1966), who used two primary dimensions of students to develop their typology: identifi cation with the college and involvement with ideas. They com-bined these orientations to create four dominant student groups: aca-demic, collegiate, vocational, and nonconformist. Both academics and collegiates identify strongly with their college and are loyal to the institu-tion. While academics prefer intellectual matters and academic work, col-legiates are less interested in academic work and embrace the social aspects of college life. Students in the vocational group view college as a stepping-stone to a good job and tend not to take part in many college-sponsored activities. Nonconformists identify more with off-campus groups and issues related to art, literature, and politics.

    The interest in college students and their experiences was sustained throughout the 1960s and 1970s, attracting the attention of many noted sociologists and social psychologists (Flacks and Thomas, 2007). Unsur-prisingly, a few typologies of college students were developed during that time, including those put forth by Newcomb, Koenig, Flacks, and War-wick (1967), Keniston (1965), Tabor and Hackman (1976), and Katchadourian and Boli (1985), as summarized by Kuh, Hu, and Vesper (2000). As an extension to the summary of major typologies by Kuh, Hu, and Vesper (2000), Table 1.1 presents an expanded summary with results from some recent studies.

    Another notable college student typology was developed by Horowitz (1987), who studied college students and student subcultures from a his-torical perspective. She distilled four student types that correspond well to Clark and Trows typology: outsiders, college men/women, new outsiders, and rebels. Outsiders were serious about academic work, whereas college men/women were more interested in the social life in college. New outsid-ers, serious about academic work, were more concerned about job oppor-tunities after college, and rebels were concerned about social issues on and off campus (Horowitz, 1987). While it seems plausible that these four major types of student groups would continue to exist, it is also likely that their numbers and relative infl uence would wax and wane as changes occur in the larger society.

    In 1993, Astin used factor analysis to create groupings from the responses of twenty-six hundred students to sixty items from the annual Cooperative Institutional Research Program survey. It resulted in seven groups: scholars, leaders, hedonists, status strivers, social activists, artists, and uncommitted. Those groups were quite similar to those described in the other typologies. In fact, Astin (1993b) concluded that there was

  • NEW DIRECTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH DOI: 10.1002/ir

    Tab

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    Maj

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    ies

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    Hor

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  • STUDENT TYPOLOGIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION 9

    NEW DIRECTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH DOI: 10.1002/ir

    considerable stability of the major types over several decades, as we depicted in Table 1.1.

    Kuh, Hu, and Vesper (2000) introduced a typology based on the quality of effort students expended in educationally purposeful activities and linked the resulting student types to student self-reported gains from college. The data set used for their study included over 51,000 under-graduates from 128 institutions in the form of responses on the Coll e ge Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ). Using factor analysis and then cluster analysis, they found that ten major groups emerged from this study: disengaged, recreator, socializer, collegiate, scientist, individualist, artist, grind, intellectual, and conventional. Most of the groups repre-sented in Kuh, Hu, and Vespers (2000) activities-based typology share certain characteristics of the groups identifi ed in past typologies (Table 1.1), supporting Astins (1993b) conclusion of stability over time in stu-dent subgro u ps. The innovative feature of Kuh, Hu, and Vesper was that students types are linked to patterns of behaviors and self-reported outcomes.

    Zhao, Gonyea, and Kuh (2003) used data from the Nationa l Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which included 40,479 responses from ran-domly selected senior students, to create a psychographic typology. The analyses used factor analysis to reduce twenty student-initiated engage-ment items to a more manageable fi ve factors (student-faculty interac-tions, experiences with diversity, academic effort, out-of-class experiences, and integrative activities), followed by a k-mean c luster analysis using the previously computed factor scores. The cluster analysis resulted in eight clusters, or types: unconventionals, collegiates, vocationals, convention-als, grinds, academics, maximizers, and disengaged. The unconventionals group was new to recent typologies and included students with below-average social and academic activity but who often interact with people who have diverse perspectives and backgrounds. The number of part-time students has increased in recent decades, resulting in part-time students being overrepresented in this group. This may also in part explain the emergence of the unconventionals group (Zhao, Gonyea, and Kuh, 2003; Hu and McCormick, 2011).

    Hu and McCormick (2011) extended the recent work on behaviorally anchored typologies by using student responses to items from the NSSE and other data from the 2006 cohort of the Wabash National Study of Lib-eral Arts Education (WNSLAE). They used a k-means cluster analysis to produce seven groups of student types based on the fi ve different bench-marks used by NSSE. The seven types were academics, unconventionals, disengaged, collegiates, maximizers, grinds, and conventionals. Outcome variables such as grade point average (GPA), objective measures of learn-ing outcomes, self-reported gains, and persistence from fi rst to second year of college were available from the WNSLAE study. This allowed researchers to use a linear and logistic regression to illustrate relationships

  • NEW DIRECTIONS FOR INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH DOI: 10.1002/ir

    10 ASSESSMENT SUPPLEMENT 2011

    between the student types and various important college outcomes. The results also support the hypothesis that certain groups are more successful in college because they spend their time on educationally purposeful activities including academics. Moreover, the more engaged students were more likely to persist to a second year at the same institution. However, GPA varied little across the different types, with the disengaged group, with by far the lowest GPA, being the only exception.

    The typologies described so far were mostly based on students attend-ing four-year institutions. Given that a large proportion of college students enroll at two-year institutions, it makes sense that there would be interest in classifying students at these schools. Bahr (2010) recently developed a typology of community college students based on student course taking and enrollment behaviors that yielded six groups: transfer, vocational, drop-in, noncredit, experimental, and exploratory. Students in the transfer group took a large number of credits that can be used for transfer pur-poses, while vocational students took courses with nontransferable voca-tional credits. Drop-in students took very few credits, and students labeled as noncredit are those who took more no-credit courses. In the experi-mental group are students who took a low course load, stayed in college for shorter periods, and had lower course success rates, and in the explor-atory group are students who took nearly a full course load but had lower course success rate. Bahrs typology described a wide variation of student enrollment behaviors in community colleges and is a good addition to the typological research on American college students. Bahrs subsequent work on community college student typologies is presented in Chapter Three in this volume.

    Continuity and Change in College Student...

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