Student Self-Determination Following Developmental Education Reform in Florida’s Community Colleges
by Rebecca L. Brower, Tamara Bertrand Jones, Shouping Hu & Toby J Park-Gaghan - 2020
Background: This multiple case study explores the self-determination needs of academically underprepared students. The context for our study was a sweeping redesign of developmental education (DE) in Florida’s community colleges, state-level legislation Senate Bill 1720 (SB 1720), which made DE optional for many students.
Purpose of Study: The research questions for this study are: (1) How did a policy change in Florida’s state colleges influence underprepared students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with campus personnel? (2) In their interactions with underprepared students in Florida’s state colleges, what did campus personnel regard as the influence of a policy change on students’ feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with staff?
Research Design: This study employs a multiple case study research design. The three cases represent nonexempt students in DE (the remainers), exempt students in DE (the compliers), and exempt students in first-level credit-bearing courses (the defiers). Over a four-year period, 36 two-day site visits to 21 institutions were completed. The research team conducted 13 individual interviews and 179 semistructured focus groups with 239 administrators, 284 faculty, 215 advisors, 23 support staff, and 378 students, resulting in data from 1,139 total participants. We developed an evolving coding framework with a priori and emergent codes. Initial propositions were developed during a within-case analysis, and then a cross-case analysis was performed to summarize patterns across all three cases. The trustworthiness of the qualitative interpretations was established through triangulation, member checking, and peer debriefing.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that students eligible to bypass DE enjoyed the autonomy of choosing their own course level, whereas those still required to take DE were stigmatized by their placement. For students able to enter directly into college-level coursework, feelings of competence and relatedness with campus personnel were closely tied to their academic performance in the more rigorous coursework. Three potential areas for institutional improvement were identified to support the self-determination needs of underprepared students: curriculum, professional development for campus personnel, and out-of-class interaction between staff and students. When students perform poorly in coursework, informational feedback that gives students specific hints about where and how to improve are far more effective than evaluative feedback alone. Professional development for faculty, advisors, and other campus personnel can help those who interact frequently with academically underprepared students better fulfill their self-determination needs. Students suggested that out-of-class interactions fostered stronger feelings of relatedness with campus personnel.
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