Traditional and Non-Traditional College Students' Descriptions of the "Ideal" Professor and the "Ideal" Course and Perceived Strengths and Limitations

Article excerpt

Results of a series of ANOVAs performed on self-report data from a large (N = 1310), diverse sample of Undergraduate students enrolled at an urban 4-year university are presented to address what different groups of students perceive as their ideal learning environment (course, professor) and motivational profile. Younger students, and students matriculating straight from high school seemed to want college to be an extension of high school. They described as their ideal courses and instructors that were fun/funny, engaging, less challenging, and employing active instructional strategies. Older students, and students transferring from community college described instructors and courses that were, by and large, more rigorous, more serious, and more readily applicable to the "real world". They were also more likely to hold views of themselves as learners that were consistent with a mastery orientation. No significant differences emerged between students who came from a college-going community (family, friends) and those who were the first in their families or peer groups to attend college. These findings have implications for those interested in identifying and avoiding serious mismatches between student and faculty expectations, and for those interested in helping students make the most fruitful adjustment to the college environment.


In recent years, faculty and counselors at college campuses across the nation have stepped up their efforts to better understand the needs of the students they serve, in an attempt to improve retention and graduation rates for an increasingly diverse and non-traditional student body (Hoover, 1997).

The research presented here contributes to this effort and builds on previous research by the author and her colleagues examining relationships among college students' personal backgrounds, their attitudes and beliefs about college work, their achievement motivational profiles, and their grades (Strage, 1999; Strage 2000; Strage & Brandt, 1999; Strage et al, 2002).

By the end of the 1980's, researchers had compiled a fairly clear picture of the formula for success for "traditional" college students, that is 18-22 year old non-minority students from middle-class backgrounds whose parents had attended college.

This formula included the adequacy of students' academic preparation, the appropriateness of their educational expectations and career goals, the "anticipatory socialization" (Weidman, 1989) they had received from parents, peers and others prior to entering college, and their assimilation into their new milieu upon matriculation. (See, for example, Astin, 1993, Pascarella & Terenzini, 1998, or Tinto, 1993.) Recently, however, frustrated by the relatively low rates of college entrance, retention and graduation among minority and non-traditional student populations, several scholars have called into question the universality of some of these patterns (Astin, 1998; Justiz, 1994; Kraemer, 1997; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1998; Rendon, 1994; Stage, 1993; Strage, 2000; Suzuki, 1994). Still, relatively little is known and much as assumed about differences in college students' experience and success as a function of their age, the route they travel to arrive at the university, and their general experience with college.

Two questions that have received little attention address (1) what different groups of students perceive as their ideal learning environment (course, professor), and (2) how such perceptions relate to their perceptions of their chief strengths and limitations. In order to anticipate and avoid potentially problematic mismatches between what students bring to the table and what will be required of them to succeed, university personnel must know the assumptions and expectations of the many student sub-populations on campus (Hoover, 1997).


The findings presented here are part of a larger research project which surveyed a cross-section of students enrolled in a large metropolitan university. …


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