Academic journal article College Student Journal

Use of Alumni Perceptions to Evaluate Instructional and Departmental Quality

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Use of Alumni Perceptions to Evaluate Instructional and Departmental Quality

Article excerpt

We asked Boise State alumni about the quality of undergraduate instruction (comparing ratings of full-time and adjunct faculty), questions about departmental quality, and general demographic questions. Although alumni consistently reported higher instructional ratings for full-time faculty, the proportion of courses taught by adjunct faculty (as reported by each respondent) did not impact overall ratings of departmental quality. We present the predictors of departmental quality and discuss how alumni surveys can aid departments in assessment and decision-making.

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Throughout the nation, Departments of Psychology are challenged to provide a quality undergraduate education to high numbers of students. One index of the popularity of psychology is evidenced by the number of psychology baccalaureates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2006) for the latest year available (2003-2004), there were 82,098 bachelor's degrees in psychology awarded. Often, high enrollment is not accompanied by commensurate levels of departmental resources. This dissonant situation forces some departments to "do more with less" or perhaps "do more with the same." Departments have varied strategies for serving more students without commensurate increases in resources. For example, one method is to increase class size. One section of 200 students in a course is more efficient (from a resource perspective) than 5 sections of 40 students each. However, this class size may impact not only student learning but also perceptions of departmental quality. Another strategy for departments is to add more class sections, but adding sections often results in adding sections taught by adjunct faculty. This strategy may help to keep class sizes low, but adjunct faculty may have less expertise and training than fulltime faculty. One of our goals was to examine indicators of departmental quality via an alumni survey, with a particular focus on how strategic decisions (such as a growing reliance on adjunct faculty) may or may not impact alumni perceptions.

The need for departmental evaluation and outcomes assessment is well-established. Halpern (1988; Halpern et al., 1993) wrote that the motivations for outcomes assessment include mandated external reviews for accreditation purposes, accountability reports provided to legislative entities and governing trustees, and internal uses of outcomes assessment data, such as for program expansion or curricular change. Halpern and others (e.g., Sheehan, 1994) have suggested multiple data sources be used in the outcomes assessment process, with frequent mention of alumni surveys as one valuable source of departmental feedback. In fact, the use of alumni surveys in assessing departmental performance is frequent (Sheehan & Granrud, 1995; Wise, Hengstler, & Braskamp, 1981). Researchers (e.g., McGovern & Carr, 1989; Quereshi, 1988) studied alumni surveys, with 5 common themes emerging: usefulness of the major, alumni satisfaction, gender differences, evaluation of curriculum and faculty, and value in enhancing career options (Quereshi, 1988). Although alumni surveys are available publicly (e.g., Dawson & Skinkle, 1996; Willemsen, Pardini, Andersen, Shirasu, & Barroga, 1999), we chose to design our own alumni survey to specifically address these questions: (a) what instructional effectiveness differences do alumni perceive between full-time and adjunct faculty, and (b) what are the overall predictors of alumni satisfaction regarding departmental performance?

Examining the differences between fulltime and adjunct faculty is not a new idea. Fischer (2005) reported that an increased use of adjunct faculty is related to declining graduation rates, and Kezim, Pariseau, and Quinn (2005) found that increasing proportions of adjunct faculty were related to increased grade inflation. Whereas the need for adjunct faculty clearly exists (e.g., Haeger, 1998), it is unknown what impact such reliance on adjunct faculty has on alumni perceptions and departmental performance. …

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