With the increase in the number of non traditional academic programs, debate has raged over the quality of these programs as compared to the traditional format. In order to address this concern, Cardinal Stritch University (CSU) conducted a two-year assessment research project comparing the academic achievement of students in similar traditional and nontraditional adult education undergraduate programs in business. The main goal of the research project was to compare and contrast the academic achievement through pre- and post-assessment by using the Educational Testing Service (ETS) Major Field Achievement Test (MFAT) in business.
Nature of the Problem
Over the past decade the number of nontraditional, adult education programs has increased dramatically in higher education. With this influx of new programs has come a barrage of criticism and questions regarding the academic quality of such programs. Moreover, accreditation organizations are emphasizing assessment as a major component for re-accreditation.
This assessment evidence must demonstrate that significant and favorable learning has occurred between the student's enrollment, graduation, and beyond. One of the major concerns of the University is to provide assessment evidence that satisfies the guidelines set by accrediting agencies. Assessment is also good for the University and helps with continuous improvement. The assessment documentation needs to include undergraduate traditional and nontraditional students' outcomes information (for example test scores).
The "nontraditional student" is a student that attends CSU's College of Business and Management (CBM) accelerated program developed for the working adult student. The delivery system is accelerated; courses are between five to ten weeks in length. The program is designed around the cohort model. Between fourteen to twenty-two students makeup a cohort group. Students attend class as a group one night a week for four hours, taking one course at a time and follow a preset program schedule. The curriculum and instruction are designed specifically for the adult learner. The "traditional student" is a student attending in the traditional fourteen-week format, meeting three to five times per week for fifty to ninety minutes each class. These students attend class independently; not as a cohort group.
Previous Research Studies
Scott and Conrad (1991, pp. 6-66) examined previous research which compared traditional and intensive course formats. Their study ranged from nontraditional courses developed during World War II to the present. Based on the research they reviewed, no significant differences in student learning over time were found to support one type of learning format better than another learning format. Consequently, Scott-Conrad concluded that, "based on the evidence, intensive courses seem to be effective alternatives to traditional-length classes regardless of format, degree of intensity, discipline or field of study--although the research seems to suggest that certain fields of study may benefit more than others" (p. 67).
Lord (1997) compared constructivist teaching to traditional teaching in a year-long study. Lord explains that constructivist educators believe that learners assess new knowledge by associating it with prior experiences, student-centered group activities, and the presentation of only necessary content in a lesson. His study compared two populations of General Biology students taught by the same instructor by two different teaching methods. The same unit exams were given to each group. The constructivist group scored significantly higher on each of the unit exams than their traditional counterparts. In conclusion, Lord justified the results by stating that the constructivist group was able to discuss and formulate their own understandings which helped them integrate and actually apply the knowledge as compared to the traditional learning experience which is strictly memorization of content (pp. …