Students' experience of a weekend college program

Material Information

Students' experience of a weekend college program an interpretivist evaluation
Smith, Elizabeth Amidon
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
viii, 80 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Alternative education -- Evaluation -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 76-80).
Social science
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Elizabeth Amidon Smith.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
42612672 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L65 1999m .S55 ( lcc )


This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text


STUDENTS' EXPERIENCE OF A WEEKEND COLLEGE PROGRAM: AN INTERPRETIVIST EVALUATION by Elizabeth Amidon Smith B.A., Bates College, 1987 A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Science 1999


This thesis for the Master of Social Science degree by Elizabeth Amidon Smith has been approved by Myra Bookman ydintugO Date


Smith, Elizabeth Amidon (M.S.S.) Students' Experience of a Weekend College Program: An Interpretivist Evaluation Thesis directed by Professor Mark A. Clarke ABSTRACT This research study is a qualitative exploration of students' experience of the Community College of Denver's Weekend College (WEC). The goal of this study was to bring students' voices into the evaluation process and to explore answers to the questions regarding their experience at the WEC: Why are they there? Do they identify as students? Do they feel part of the larger community of the college? Are they satisfied with what is being offered by the college? Do they see a need for improvement and, if so, in what areas? The main question addressed is what are the experiences (positive and negative) of this diverse group of students attending Weekend College classes. This study presents the results of data collected from focus groups and interviews with 19 WEC students. The 19 students were a diverse group in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, and background. Analysis and interpretation revealed that the positive aspects of students' experience were the construction of a WEC student identity, the convenience ofthe WEC in terms of scheduling around family and work responsibilities, the relaxed atmosphere of the Ill


WEC, their relationships with peers in a classroom community, and their experiences of teachers. Students' comments revealed further needs for convenience that were unmet by the WEC in the areas of availability of services on the weekend and expanded course selection. This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication. Signed Mark A. Clarke IV


DEDICATION I dedicate this thesis to my mother, Elizabeth C. Smith, who shares a love of learning and a will to succeed on her own terms.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT Many thanks to my best friend, Anne Reis Cyr, for her encouragement and feedback in the process of researching and writing this thesis. I also wish to thank my peers in the Social Science program, JeffSchweinfest and Nina Ghandour, for their considerable moral support Most of all I am grateful to the 19 Weekend College students who kindly volunteered their time and shared their experiences as students of the Weekend College.


CONTENTS CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION .................................................................................. 1 2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE .......... ............................................. 6 Quantitative Studies ....... ..... ................. ... ......... .............................. 8 Demographics .... ............. ...... . .......................... .......... .... ... 8 Student Needs/Satisfaction ............................... ... .............. 1 0 Qualitative Studies ......................................................................... 15 Theoretical Considerations ..... ........... ........................... ... ........... 19 Identity ......... ............. ............ ........................................ .. 19 Community ................ .............. ........................ ............. . 21 Summary .......... .. ........ .... ......... .......... .... ....... . ... ... .. ..... ........... ..... . 22 3. THE STUDY ............................................. .......................................... 24 Methodology ....................... . .............. ........................................ 24 Limitations ofthe Study ......... .......................................... 26 The Process ....................................................... .......................... . 27 Ethics ...................................................... ........... ............... 28 Entree and Role Negotiation .................. ........................... 30 Design and Data Collection ... ............................ .............. 31 Vll


Analysis ...... ............ ...................................................................... 34 The Participants ....... ... ...................................... ... .. ... ......... 34 Positive Aspects ofExperience ....................................... ... 37 Negative Aspects of Experience ........................................ 50 Summary ......................................................... . ............................ 57 4. CONCLUSION ............................ .... .................................... ............. . 59 Reflections on the Study .............................................................. . 59 Weekend College Student Identity ....... ....................... .... 59 Convenience/Inconvenience .............................................. 61 Community ................ .......................... ............................ 62 Small Classrooms, Teachers, Relaxed Atmosphere ........ . 64 Recommendations .......................................................................... 65 Musings on Implications ................................................................ 68 Summary ................................ ........................ . ............................ 71 APPENDIX A. FOCUS GROUP AND INTERVIEW QUESTIONS ........... .............. 74 B. STUDENT INFORMATION FORM ................................. ................ 75 REFERENCES ....................................................................................... ....... .... ... 76 viii


CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Students' voices are critical in the evaluation of educational programs. In my formal and informal interactions with students at the Community College of Denver's Weekend College, I hear student opinions and concerns expressed about their experience. "Why aren't there more classes offered on the weekend?" "The parking here is a real problem." "What is the Honors' Program?" "The lab needs to be open later on Saturdays." As a major part of my job as co-director, I also field student complaints and grievances about Weekend College instructors and courses. However, most ofthis student input and feedback is handled one-on-one; individual explanations and solutions are offered. Although an individual student will walk away with an answer, an explanation or a solution; the students whose issues are not voiced, are not addressed. Compounding this is the problem that the weekend students are outside the mainstream of the college-the Monday through Friday, 8:00a.m.-5:00p.m. "norm" of classes and services. Within community colleges and in the literature, the weekend students fall into a group categorized as "nontraditional students"an umbrella term employed to define the incredible diversity of students who need to


attend classes at "nontraditional" times. These students include those employed full-time and part-time, single mothers, immigrants, foreign students, older students, ethnic minorities, and others. Educational researchers have had difficulty defining the nontraditional student (Meyer, 1980, p. 57), and Greenland (1993) addressed the inadequacy of this designation and its problematic implications: ... to continue to classify as nontraditional the growing numbers of new category students seeking higher education experiences could be interpreted as keeping them at the margin of the institution's time-honored (or time worn) customs, minimally covered by its "unwritten laws." (p. 183) Shotter and Gergen (1994) present this same concept on a larger scale, in the epistemological debate between positivist models and constructionist ones, in which positivism is characterized by ... . emerging processes of rewarding those who remain within the traditions and punishing those who deviate. Such sanctioning may be intentional and systematic ... [m]ore typically, however, it operates through the subtle microprocesses of everyday interaction, in which slights, innuendoes, or silences are used to discredit those whose discourses threaten an established mode oflife. (p. 22) The diverse student population coming to the college at nontraditional times does pose a threat to the "traditional" concept of college. This is precisely why it is so critical to provide a forum and an opportunity for these students to express their ideas, opinions, and concerns regarding their educational experiences. The purpose of this study is to bring together students to discuss their experiences and become part of the dialogue. 2


The students who attend Weekend College classes at the Community College of Denver (CCD) are a diverse group-weekday students who need a class to finish their degree program, working students (full-time or part-time), older students returning to school after a significant break in their studies as well as students from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The following student profile was reported in the 1997-98 College Annual Report: Average Age 28 Men 41% Women 59% African-American 13% Asian/Pacific Islander 9% Hispanic 32% Native American 2% White 45% International 3% The Community College ofDenver is the most diverse institution of all two-year and four-year colleges and universities in Colorado (Community College ofDenver Annual Report, 1997-98). I have been working with the college to generate a comparison of the college-wide student population and the Weekend College student population. Currently, for the same academic year, what we know about the Weekend College population is that the proportion of women to men is higher-64% of the students are women, 36% are men. Seventy percent of WEC students are age 25 and older. In terms of ethnicity, the demographics of the Weekend College reflect the demographics of the general college population. This is a profile 3


of the students who take weekend classes. What we do not know and what this study is interested in e'Wloring is the more intangible information about what meaning students make of their experience. As the co-director of the Weekend College (WEC), I wonder about these students' experience of the program? Why are they there? Do they identify as students? Do they feel part of the larger community of the college? Are they satisfied with what is being offered by the college (not only in the sense of course offerings but in the sense of services, support)? Do they see a need for improvement and, if so, in what areas? The main question I am addressing in undertaking a qualitative study of the Weekend College is what are the experiences (positive and negative) of this diverse group of students attending Weekend College classes at the Community College of Denver. The WEC program is relatively small, i.e. 30-35 classes per 15-week semester with an enrollment of approximately 400-500 students. It is not possible to complete an entire associate's degree with only WEC classes; students would need to take other weekday or evening classes and/or distance learning classes (e.g. online courses). Although several community colleges (and four-year institutions) have instituted complete Weekend College degree programs and marketed them as such, CCD has 4


not. The college has administratively designated Friday, Saturday and Sunday classes as "Weekend College." In order to improve the program and to address these students' needs, I need to understand their current perceptions of the program. Although it is part of the directors' job to field complaints and comments from individual students, we wanted a more comprehensive picture of students' experiences in the Weekend College. In order to get at this potentially valuable information, the evaluation was qualitative and used an interpretivist philosophical framework. The data were gathered, analyzed, and interpreted from one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Students had an opportunity and a forum in which to express their opinions. As the researcher I had the challenge of interpreting, analyzing, and synthesizing this information. This evaluation strove to bring student voices into the dialogue on the Weekend College and attempted to capture the experience ofthe students. The study has provided me with a different view of the WEC and its students (confirming some of my assumptions and challenging others). The results will be used as a basis for considering, and perhaps implementing, changes in the structure and philosophy of the program. 5


CHAPTER2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE It has been approximately within the past 30 years that two-year and four-year colleges and universities have instituted Weekend College programs to meet the needs of"nontraditional" students. In 1965, Miami-Dade Community College started the first weekend degree program (East, 1988, p. 13). These students were grouped and labeled "nontraditional" as many of them were older students (more than 25 years of age) who worked full-time or part-time. Education had not been traditionally accessible to this part ofthe population. In 1977, Feinstein and Angelo discussed the innovations necessary in university programs to meet the needs of the "working adult," and primary among these innovations was the idea that classes needed to be scheduled at times and places convenient for these students. They argued for a Weekend College program as a five-year experiment (Feinstein & Angelo, 1977, pp. 6-7). Meyer (1980) sums up the impetus to implement Weekend College programs as ... . an alternative educational delivery system providing a complete educational program on weekends. For many adults, the weekend may well be the only time they can pursue educational goals; for others, it may be the most desirable alternative. This is especially true of the working adult who may have both work and social commitments in the day and evening during the week. (p. 4) 6


Currently more than 250 Weekend College programs at colleges and universities have been documented by Dr. James East (Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis) in the United States and more programs are on the horizon (Kelly, 1997, p. 3). My survey of the literature revealed that most evaluations of Weekend College programs have been conducted by the educational institutions themselves and used internally for program assessment and, in some cases, for program improvement or expansion. Interestingly, in the one study that tried to quantitatively determine what characteristics the "best" Weekend Colleges in the country shared, Rountree ( 1987) reached the conclusion that "[t]here are virtually no characteristics common to the operation of all of the 15 best weekend colleges in the nation. There did not appear to be a consistent pattern in the areas of administration, goals and mission, policies and procedures, budgeting, weekend course scheduling, or guidelines for the operation of the weekend college" (p. 89). The studies presented here are local and practice-based (as opposed to theory-based) studies; many of them provide examples of the survey instruments that were used to evaluate their programs (Lucas, 1992; Report of the Student Evaluation of the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), 1985; John Tyler Community College, 1995; Matsen, 1989; Hecht, 1991; Meyer, 1980). In addition to the 7


evaluations of current Weekend College programs, three studies surveyed potential student populations on the viability of offering the Weekend College format at their institutions (Sigworth & Utley, 1995; Capps, 1985; Goddard, 1993). The vast majority of these evaluation reports are quantitative in nature, i.e. surveys, and collect data on student characteristics (demographics), student satisfaction, and student needs. The focus of most is to generate a "profile" of Weekend College students and their needs at these individual institutions. In the Weekend College literature itself, only two studies employed a qualitative approach for the evaluation of Weekend College programs: The Weekend College as an Educational Community: A Study in Participant Observation (Guerin & Reedy, 1979) and Weekend College: Assessing the Reality and the Promise. a paper delivered at the 1991 National Conference on the Adult Leamer (Overall, Miklich, & Snow). Quantitative Studies Demographics The demographic information most commonly collected included: gender, age, and employment status. A sample profile: An overview of the Weekend College student would indicate that the typical student (if there is such a thing) is a woman near 30 years of age, probably not married; she has attended college previously, and her primary activity is that of an employee. She will be carrying over 12 hours of credit in the quarter, indicating that she also attends day or evening classes in addition to the weekend classes. Her main reason for attending the Weekend College is to accelerate work toward a degree. (Meyer, 1980, p. 116, emphasis mine) 8


Several of these studies look at the gender of students enrolled in Weekend College programs. In surveys that reported this information, women were more likely than men to participate in weekend programs. Women students were reported in the majority of actual or of potential Weekend College populations with percentages ranging from 55 percent to as high as 80 percent (Hecht, 1991; Capps, 1985; Matsen, 1989; John Tyler Community College. 1995; Sigworth & Utley, 1995; Report ofthe Student Evaluation ... (MATC), 1985; Meyer; Goddard, 1993). While some of the reports only gave the average or median age of students which ranged from mid-20s to mid-30s (Hecht, Sigworth & Utley, Goddard), others compared the actual or potential weekend students' average or median age with the average or median age of students attending traditional, weekday classes. In these reports, the weekend students in general were significantly older than their weekday peers (Capps, Matsen, Report of the Student Evaluation); Meyer reported these differences between the two populations and concluded that the Weekend College "may be a different population from the general college population" (p. 149). As for employment, most of the studies reported that a majority of actual or potential weekend students were employed full-time (Matsen, Sigworth & Utley, Capps, Goddard, Meyer). In the MATC study, 78% of the students were employed full time or part-time. Ethnicity was also reported in these studies; the demographic information varied from college to college as it reflected the geographic location of the institution. Goddard offers a comprehensive review of these studies in A Studv 9


of Student Demographics. Class Scheduling. Weekend Program Offerings, and Their Relationship for an Urban-Based Multi-Campus College. Student Needs/Satisfaction The three surveys of students who might potentially enroll in a Weekend College program of study focused primarily on profiling potential students and these students' scheduling/course needs. As discussed above, each of these surveys determined that the potential Weekend College student was different from the younger, traditional weekday college student. Capps (19S5) explains in her study of evening students of which 66% expressed interest in the Weekend College format, "The average evening student population differs from the 'traditional' student in three major ways: the evening student is older, works full-time, and is motivated by upward mobility factors" (p. 1 ). In terms of students' needs for course offerings, these three studies revealed that a significant number of potential students would be interested in pursuing degree options and/or in course work related to their career advancement. Capps recommended that "[ r ]equired courses should occupy a substantial part of the Weekend College schedule to meet all requirements for the granting of the AA, AS, or AAS degree in the Weekend College setting" (p. 3). Sigworth & Utley (1995) surveyed respondents on degree interest (approximately 33% ofthe potential Weekend College students indicated that earning a degree would be a reason to attend) and found that computers and business management 10


ranked first and second for potential degree fields (p. 15, p. 3). Goddard (1993) found that 46.9% of the Oakland Community College students surveyed were interested in the Weekend College option (pp. 99-100) and concluded that these students were "concerned about costs, convenience, and programs/classes which would directly assist them in pursuit of a career. The respondents indicated that they were interested in alternate formats of scheduling and expansion of offerings to include weekends (Saturday and Sunday) and non-traditional starting times" (pp. 135-136). Many of the surveys of operating Weekend College programs found that a main reason students were attending weekend classes was that they were "convenient" for their work and family/home schedules (Hecht, 1991; Lucas, 1992; Matsen, 1989; Report of Student Evaluation ... CMATC), 1985; John Tvler Community College, 1995). In the MATC study, "Convenient time (33.6%) was the most frequent response to the question as to what was the reason for attending MATC" (p. 3); in Matsen's study, 58% responded that they were taking classes on the weekend because "the time was convenient" (p. 38); and in the report from John Tyler Community College, 90% of students indicated that the "classes fit their busy schedule" (pp. 11-12). II


As with the surveys of potential students, a number of the studies of actual programs reported that significant numbers of Weekend College students were degree-seeking students and/or pursuing courses for career advancement; these studies found students attended the Weekend College for "personal interest" reasons as well. In the MATC survey, 44% ofthe respondents were either there to "[e]arn an Associate Degree" (31 %) or to "[a]cquire skills for a new job" or a"[ e ]am a vocational certificate or diploma" (these two categories combined are 20%), while 28% were enrolled for "[p ]ersonal fulfillment or enjoyment" (p. 2). However, "Associate Degree classes [were] most in demand by Weekend College students" (p. 3). In the Lane Community College study, Matsen (1989) discovered "two populations of students" attending weekend classes; for the first population (older, employed full time, part-time student), students were predominantly taking classes for "vocational reasons or for self-improvement" and for the second population (not employed full time, single with no children, low-income bracket), they tended "to aspire to a degree or to transfer to a four-year institution" (p. 40). Hecht (1991) reported that 66% of the Saturday students at Parkland Community College were "pursuing a career program goal" (p. 2). In the John Tyler Community College report approximately 50% of the students reported that they were degree-seeking students and approximately 33% reported that they planned "to transfer to another college" (John Tyler Community College, 1995, p. 10). Meyer (1980) reported that on the Annandale campus "the most important single reason for both men and women 12


attending the Weekend College program ... was to accelerate work toward a degree" (p. 107). Most of these surveys included "objective" (and, in some cases, open-ended) questions regarding student needs and satisfaction. MATC's report offered a mean rating of responses and found that students rated the "manner in which I have been treated (respectfulness, courteousness, helpfulness) by the MATC instructors" as number one, the courses themselves as number two, and the "quality of teaching" as number three (Report of the Student Evaluation ... (MATC), 1985, p. 12). At Parkland Community College, Hecht (1991) reported that "[s]tudent open-ended suggestions for improving Saturday classes were ranked by frequency of mention within topics ... Saturday student suggestions much more frequently addressed class scheduling than student support services" (p. 10). Lucas' survey at William Harper Rainey College included open-ended responses from students but they were not summarized or analyzed; from the objective responses concerning "services" it appeared that the "[ w ]eekend students had less need for placement and career information but more need for access to the Learning Resources Center, the bookstore, the Registrar's Office, the Women's Program Office and child care services" (Lucas, 1992, p. 2). 13


The most comprehensive of these studies in terms of evaluating students' needs and satisfaction was the John Tyler Communitv College (1995) report; it provided both a "quantitative and qualitative base to judge the effectiveness of the program" (p. 5). Ninety-one percent of students gave "quality of instruction" ratings of "excellent or very good" (p. 13). In terms of services, more than 50% of students in this study rated access to teachers, the Weekend College office, and "the Learning Resources Center. .. the bookstore, the counseling office, and the admissions and records office" as "very good or good" (pp. 12-13). Reported as "[a]reas of concern" (i.e. low rated items) were "ease of registration (13 percent), the quality of service from the business office (15 percent), and the quality of service from faculty advisors (18 percent)" (p. 14) The open-ended general comments were grouped and analyzed. The themes presented were mostly positive: 1) the convenience of weekend classes for "work and family" obligations, 2) students' "satisfaction with specific instructors," and 3) the ability to accelerate work towards a degree (pp. 16-17). The approach used to analyze and interpret the findings of the qualitative and quantitative data in this report leads us into the more qualitative approaches of the following studies. 14


Qualitative Studies There is a dearth of qualitative research on the Weekend College programs offered at community colleges particularly research that examines students' perceptions, satisfaction, and needs. Overall et al. (1991) explored administrators' perceptions oftheir Weekend College programs at eleven educational institutions in Southern California. They visited the administrators and conducted "structured" interviews; they also included written documents ("[b]rochures and reports") as part of their data (p. 9). The administrators almost all agreed that "by adding the weekend option, their institutions are able to make additional educational opportunities available to people in their communities. They ... see this ... as especially helpful for working adults" as well as beneficial for their institutions in terms of higher enrollment and income (p. 12). Although five of the institutions felt they needed to provide their weekend students with more services (p. 24), the study showed that most of the institutions did have the following services available for students: advising, admissions, bookstore, bursar, library, security, the computer labs, and study areas (p. 14). Most interesting in this paper was the recounting of "perceived strengths and weaknesses" ofthe Weekend College programming. The strengths included 1) that adults with work and family responsibilities prefer to meet once a week and have a week to complete homework assignments, 2) that some content areas are best taught in a 15


long session, and 3) that the length of classes allow students to get to know each other and build a team through group work (p. 21). Weaknesses ofthe weekend format included the following: 1) long class sessions may be difficult for certain students who may become tired or bored, 2) some courses require more processing time and reflection so more frequent meetings would be desirable, and 3) class absences become a serious difficulty for students since so much material is covered in one session (pp. 21-22). Since the study surveyed only administrators, these are presumably administrators' perceptions ofthe strengths and weaknesses of the Weekend College format. However, the authors also refer to "students who are taking classes on the weekend indicat[ing] a number of reasons" (p. 13) for attending the Weekend College programs; it is unclear whether these are actual student views or administrators' interpretations of student views. Regardless, the reasons are summarized as 1) the "convenience" ofthe Weekend College format, 2) the ability to "accelerat[e] a degree program," 3) the benefit of taking a class when rested as opposed to taking one after a workday, and 4) the format suits the students' learning style (p. 13). One study of student experiences was a collaboration by Guerin and Reedy (1979) who conducted a participant-observation study of St. Xavier College's weekend program. They argued that "proponents of qualitative methodologies such as participant observation, have pointed to the fact that studies of human societies are 16


far too complex and changeable to be easily categorized or operationally defined in ways acceptable to the quantitative researcher" (pp. 12-13). Their study of the Weekend College focused on three concerns: 1) the development of an educational community, 2) students' expectations and behaviors, and 3) the relationship between the two (p. 61 ). This study goes beyond the "profiles" and quantification of needs and satisfaction offered by the quantitative studies; it provides information that reveals the complexity and richness of the program and its students rather than a more quantified view of the characteristics of the program and of the students. The study concluded that students experienced frustration as a result of the difference between their expectations of their educational experience and the actual educational experience; however, the "frustrations faced by the students even developed into a positive force for building an educational community. While in themselves these frustrations were divisive and counter-productive, they gave the students a nucleus of similar experiences and feelings around which to cluster" (pp. 81-82). Although not part ofthe Weekend College literature, a related study of nontraditional students defined as "minorities, immigrants, working class students, and students over age 25" (not primarily weekend students) offers a critical interpretation of nontraditional students' aspirations in a community college setting (Valadez, 1993, p. 30). This ethnographic study used one-on-one interviews with 17


students and staff to explore "questions about their roles, the meaning of education in their lives, and their opinions concerning minority student academic achievement" (p. 33). The findings of this critical theory-based research revealed that these students attributed "their success to the quality of their relationships with the instructors," that these students often did not have access to the "cultural capital" (e.g. family experiences with education) and support structures that more traditional students had available to them (pp. 34-37), and that students' success was connected positively and negatively with their "day-to-day experiences with the institution" (p. 39). Another qualitative study based on narrative analysis methods was conducted at five high schools in California. Davidson (1996) presented the analysis of six student narratives to add several layers of complexity to the extensive demographic statistics from each institution. Her focus was on "the relationship between ethnic/racial identity and academic engagement, examining in particular the role that schools and classrooms play in shaping this relationship" (pp. 1-2). By exploring the individual student identities, Davidson offered differing views and perspectives on secondary education, illustrated the complexity ofthe student's experiences, and revealed how categorization of students is limiting to our understanding of those experiences. Simply by "labeling" a group, we do not know 18


what the individuals in that group need, hope, dream, and, academically, what would help them succeed. Theoretical Considerations Concepts about identity (as explored in the Davidson study) and, subsequently, about community are especially relevant to understanding students and their experiences in an educational environment. Identity From a social psychological viewpoint, Kenneth Gergen (1998) argues that in the postmodern age a conception of an essential self is "eroding ... [as] a result of the forces of social saturation" in which social saturation is the vast and expanding access via technology to the "voices of humankind-both harmonious and alien" (p. 302). The individual confronts multiple opportunities for the construction of the self in relation to others (p. 308). He presents the theory that it is through our interactions (conversations) with others that we construct selves (Gergen; Shotter & Gergen, 1994); relationality is integral to self construction. Several ofthe ideas raised in Gergen's theory (i.e., narrative construction ofthe self, an anti-essentialist self, a self-other dynamic) have long been a focus of feminist theory and research. Gilligan's (1997) seminal work presented both the importance 19


of"voice" in identity development as well as the awareness that there was (at least) more than one theory of identity development. Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule ( 1986) in their epistemological study conflated the development of identity and voice; through examining women's narratives they revealed that not only do self, narrative, and mind develop concurrently but also that there are multiple "ways ofknowing" that have been silenced. Various points of view on the essentialism debate in feminist theory remain (De Lauretis, 1994; Grosz, 1994), and (as with Gergen) many feminist theorists argue against an "essentialized" or universalized identity as a function ofhegemonic, patriarchal structures (Mohanty, 1991). The self-other dynamic follows off of this idea of essentialism as Mohanty explains in her discussion of the cultural reproduction of colonizing discourses that she is: ... trying to uncover how ethnocentric universalism is produced in certain analyses. As a matter of fact, my argument holds for any discourse that sets up its own authorial subjects as the implicit referent, i.e., the yardstick by which to encode and represent cultural Others. It is in this move that power is exercised in discourse. (p. 55) In "othering" we universalize the characteristics of an individual and deny that person his/her own individuality, self-definition, and voice; however, the dynamic exists so we have a duty to be keenly aware of this self-other relationality and how we work within it (Fine, 1994). 20


Community The question of how students identify themselves within the context of conversations and within the context of relationships raises questions of community. Several studies within the field of adult education examine related issues in terms of nontraditional students' identification with the educational institution (Warner & Dishner, 1997; Copland-Wood, 1985; Naretto, 1995; Bean & Metzner, 1985). Involvement and detachment as related to attrition of nontraditional students are the focus of a paper presented in 1985 by CoplandWood. She found that "older adult commuters were not involved in campus and off-campus organizations and did not wish to be" (p. 7). However, she theorized from an examination of students' open responses that "another facet of involvement may be psychological, a desire to be more involved ... may be a more powerful description of adult student development and persistence than physical involvement" (p. 11 ). In proposing a model for studying nontraditional student attrition, Bean and Metzner conclude that although "social integration" with the college community is positively correlated with persistence for residential students, "it has not been found to be positively and significantly related to the persistence of nontraditional students" (p. 520). A third study on retention "focused specifically on the influence that membership in communities internal and external to an institution might have on persistence or nonpersistence, and on which communities were regarded as most influential" (Naretto, p. 91). College community was defined as "time spent on campus, 21


perceptions of support and relationships with students, faculty, and staff' (p. 92). Both the quantitative and qualitative portions of the study supported the thesis that being part of a "positive, supportive campus community" (p. 93) was an important influence on adult students' persistence (p. 93, p. 96). Naretto contends that this study challenges "the Bean!Metzner concept that because adult students are usually commuters they are not subject to the socializing influences of the college environment" (p. 96). Warner and Dishner support the importance of community for adult students: The importance of peer support and a sense of belonging within an academic community should not be underestimated (Naretto, 1995). Fostering a sense of connectedness to institutions of higher education is an important aspect of student retention. Creating this connection for adult students remains a challenge ... (p. 542) Summary After reviewing studies that have been done in the area of Weekend College programs, I saw a need for a qualitative study of a community college Weekend College program that featured students' voices. In undertaking a qualitative, interpretivist evaluation of an educational program, the primary goal is to understand the perceptions and experiences of different "stakeholders" (Greene, 1994, p. 532). In this project, the "stakeholders" I am interested in are the students taking classes on the weekends at the community college. Since the college overall is facing declining enrollments, the college is evaluating many of its programs. For 22


the Weekend College, the interests and needs of the other stakeholders (administrators, deans of academic divisions) are currently being discussed and explored by the Vice President of Instruction. However, for this program (and, I would argue, for any college program) it is essential to understand the students' (as primary stakeholders) experiences (both positive and negative) before implementing change. As with many of the institutions mentioned in the literature review, CCD does administer a questionnaire-type survey ofthe Weekend College each 15-week semester. The survey results often reaffirm our perceptions of the program (on which the survey is based) without exploring students' perceptions beyond the objective responses provided. The opportunity to speak with students in depth and at length about their subjective experiences of the Weekend College will provide additional, different, and richer information. Who are the students at the Weekend College? Why are they there? What do they value about their experience? What is not valued and what is needed? I set out to seek this information directly from the students themselves in order to understand what meaning the students make of their expenence. 23


CHAPTER3 THE STUDY Methodology The method most suited to meeting the goals of this study, i.e. to bring students into the discussion of the Weekend College and to learn about their perceptions of their experiences is a qualitative one incorporating student focus groups and one-on-one interviews. An opportunity to engage in dialogue with individual students and with groups of students promised the most in terms of learning about their perceptions of the Weekend College. Qualitative program evaluation has become more widely practiced and more accepted in education over the past twenty-five years. Jennifer Greene (1994) cites two movements -a changing philosophical stance on research in the social sciences (moving from a post positivist stance to a postmodem one) and the reflection of evaluators on the political nature ofthe practice of their work-as the main reasons that program evaluation has moved in a more qualitative direction (p. 534). There are several different types of qualitative research recognized in education, most of which are associated with their chief advocates: Eisner's educational 24


connoiseurship; Patton's "pragmatist" approach; Guba and Lincoln's constructivist, or, newly labeled, "Fourth Generation Evaluation"; and Miles and Huberman's "neopositivist" qualitative data analysis (Greene, 1994; Pitman & Maxwell, 1992; Schwandt, 1994). In philosophical positions, these qualitative research approaches range from self-designated "logical positivists" (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to subjectivist constructivists (Guba & Lincoln, 1989) My reading and reflection has led me to view my own approach to research as an interpretivist one, and in regard to educational program evaluation, as interpretivism, as defined by Greene's (1994) four categories: philosophical framework, key audiences, methods, and typical evaluation questions. She presents interpretivism as being characterized by a pluralistic approach with goals of "understanding, diversity and solidarity"; as addressing the needs of "program directors, staff and beneficiaries"; as using qualitative methods such as "case studies, interviews, observations, document review"; and asking the questions "How is the program experienced by various stakeholders?" (p. 532). For this evaluation, I looked at students' (as stakeholders) experience of the program and "focus[ ed] ... on the interpretation of people's motives, meanings, and intentions that is, the interpretation of the interpretations people give to their own subjective experiences" (Smith, 1989, p. 124). Since this evaluation was 25


constructed as an open-ended and flexible process, it was not clear what the results would yield. I could not know what students would tell me about the program. I could not predict what changes might be suggested. I could not see the end result I was hoping in many ways to be surprised by the data, and, on the other hand, I was hoping to have some of my beliefs affirmed by the students. This evaluation is a work-in-progress with as much emphasis on the process as on the results. I took seriously Bateson's (1972) cautions to the researcher about being too purposive; in making this point he refers to Margaret Mead's work: The solution which she offers is that we look for the "direction," and "values" implicit in the means, rather than looking ahead to a blueprinted goal and thinking of this goal as justifying or not justifying manipulative means. We have to find the value of a planned act implicit in and simultaneous with the act itself, not separate from it in the sense that the act would derive its value from reference to a future end or goaL (pp. 160-161) With this in mind, I remained open to what the data revealed and to what understanding of students' experience ofthe program was constructed. Limitations ofthe Study The data gathered will be specific to the cultural, historical and temporal context of this program and these particular students. This is a key principle in interpretivist research as defined by Guba and Lincoln (1989) in Fourth Generation Evaluation: Evaluation is a local process. Its outcomes depend on local contexts, local stakeholders, and local values and cannot be generalized to other 26


settings ... although [evaluation data] may be adapted, or learned from, in the sense ofvicarious experience. (p. 263) The study participants are a small group from within the Weekend College student population (19 students out of approximately 500 students). These 19 students volunteered to participate; we do not have the voices of students who chose not to participate. The evaluation was located at the Community College of Denver, an urban community college, and conducted in one particular semester, Fall 1998. Bearing in mind that that the study involved a small number of interested participants and is situated at a particular time and place, the results are not widely generalizable nor are meant to be. The Process Pitman and Maxwell ( 1992) provide a model of qualitative educational evaluation as a flexible, self-reflexive, and (in some sense) open-ended process, and I made use of their model as a framework for this project. The categories of the evaluation process are: ethics, entree, role negotiation, design and data collection, analysis, reporting and recommendations; I do not consider these headings as "steps" since evaluations I have conducted in the past have rarely played out in a linear fashion. However, I have used this model to guide my work and know that as a meaningful construction it can be adapted to meet the needs of this project 27


The entire research process from recruiting participants, to designing the study, to writing up the findings is enmeshed with ethical questions and concerns. At every turn, especially at those moments that involved interaction with the students, I faced ethical issues and decisions. Although students signed a consent form to participate, the ethical issues do not end with this formality. As an example, students in the discussions used teachers' individual names and discussed teachers' individual practices; in this particular evaluation, most of these comments were in fact highly complimentary, but they might not have been. Perhaps as the researcher but also as the co-director of the program (i.e. the person who hires and fires instructors), I would have uncovered information about a teacher that would have further ramifications yet the teacher had not signed a consent to participate in my research. I found in the midst of one of the focus groups being uncomfortable when a student was discussing an instructor with the group and was relieved when the instructor was someone I did not know. It is a caution to me regarding future research-to consider all of the participants the actual participants in the study and those individuals referred to during the course of the study. Another ethical issue is that of my roles within the evaluation; it made sense to me to combine my role as graduate researcher with that as co-director of the program. Yet was there a conflict of interest? Where do my values stand-with producing a coherent product (i.e. a 28


thesis) or with working to improve the program? In this case, fortunately, the answer is both; this is something, though, that I wanted to be explicit about to those I worked with (my dean, my co-director, and the students). I was doing this project as both graduate student and co-director. In my mind, the primary ethical issue in this qualitative study is the relationship between myself, as the researcher/codirector, and the students who volunteered to participate. As Michelle Fine ( 1994) cautions, I wanted to be well aware of"working the hyphen .. how we are in relation with the contexts we study and with our informants, understanding that we are all multiple in these relations" (p. 72). As the researcher I have realized from past experience and from this current project as well that it is not always possible to foresee all of the ethical considerations in advance but when ... . [you] begin doing research in schools or other educational contexts and discover [you] are forced to make decisions that require ethical choices. Frequently, such choices are not seen as ethical choices at the time. They look like practical decisions about what to do next, either methodologically or strategically. Only later, upon reflection, do they appear to have been ethical choices. (Deyhle; Hess, Jr; & LeCompte, 1992) It would be idealistic to hope to address all the ethical issues up front; the issues arise as part ofthe dialogue and part of the relationship. This is the dialectical nature of interpretivist work. The goal is to reflect on ethical concerns throughout the entire process. 29


Entree and Role Negotiation With the primary ethical concern about the relationship between myself and the Weekend College students in mind, I began the process. As the co-director of the Weekend College, I have entree to the population and to the program-I have access to the classes, to the instructors, and to the students. Each semester I visit classes several times for a variety of reasons -to bring by rosters and assist with registration at the beginning of the semester, to observe instructors, to administer course/instructor evaluations. Despite this, from my journal entries, I see that "I was anxious about asking students to participate," and I feel this stemmed from my awareness of my role as co-director and students' perception of that role. I did not want students to feel obligated to participate; I was keenly aware of the relationship between myself and the students. When I told one of the instructors about this, she jokingly replied "Just force them," and I replied that I couldn't do that; her retort was "What kind of administrator are you?" And this was exactly the point, I did not want to be that kind of administrator. The approach that worked for me was to present myself as someone the students know as the co-director and also as a student (like themselves) who needed to ask for their help, that is to ask them "a favor." On a Friday evening and Saturday morning of the fall semester, I visited 14 of the 25 Weekend College classes to ask for volunteers for the study. The class subject 30


areas were: Speech, Mathematics (several sections), English (several sections), Astronomy, Spanish, Chemistry, and Intro to Computers. This represented a reasonable cross-section of our weekend course offerings. This was not purposively planned; I chose not to interrupt certain classes (e.g. those that were testing), and I stopped visiting classes when I had more than twice the number of students needed for the study. Fifty students signed up as potential volunteers; I was surprised and delighted with the response. In many ways I felt that the "research ha[ d] really begun" (journal entry): in visiting the classes a dialogue had opened up with the students. Many students who did not volunteer to participate did volunteer their thoughts on the Weekend College-positive and negative-right then and there. Another positive aspect of this phase of the research was that explaining the project to the students helped me to clarify my purposes in the study. Design and Data Collection I designed the study to highlight the voices of the students through their participation in focus groups and interviews. Schwandt (1994) really touches the heart of what the process involved: The aim of attending carefully to the details, complexity, and situated meanings of the everyday life world can be achieved through a variety of methods. Although we may feel professionally compelled to use a special language for these procedures (e.g., participant observation, informant interviewing, archival research), at base, all interpretive inquirers watch, listen, ask, record, and examine. (p. 119, emphasis mine) 31


The procedures that I chose for data collection were focus groups and one-on-one interviews with Weekend College students. Although the transcription of the focus groups and interviews represents the bulk of the data, the data also consisted of my observations, my journal notes kept during the project, and other informal interactions with stakeholders (the co-director, instructors, and students). I scheduled the focus groups at times that I hoped would be most convenient for the students and would not conflict with their schedules. This was a challenging part of the process. The end result was that I held four focus groups (three of them were small in size) and conducted three interviews. A total of 19 students participated in the study. One student began an interview that was never finished because of his work and time constraints; although I transcribed the first part of this interview, I chose not to include it in the coded data. Once the arduous, yet interesting, task of transcription was completed, I formatted the documents and loaded them into QSR NUDIST, a qualitative research software program. This software enabled me to look at all of the approximately 70 pages of data (the transcription of interview and focus group remarks). I chose to open code the student comments (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, pp. 101-121). That is, I did not start with defined categories in which to sort the data; I allowed the categories to emerge from the data. As I moved from one document to the next, the comments were exhaustively coded into initial categories and additional categories were added as 32


they occurred to me in the process. After all the data had been open coded, the categories were checked for consistency, refined, and finally grouped conceptually into the main themes of the evaluation. This would be a procedure that a grounded theorist would propose code the data, group the data, see which categories emerge, and link these themes to extant theory or create new theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The key to an interpretivist method is the awareness of the on-going interpretation of each part of the process; interpretation and analysis are integral to every part of the research process. Analysis is there from the moment you set out to participate in a project. With this particular evaluation, I carried with me the preparatory "analysis" of two years, i.e. the "knowledge" of two years of co-directing the Weekend College. I cannot separate (nor would I want to) my knowledge of the program (i.e. the history, the context, the major players) from the data I compiled and reviewed. The analysis actually began before I started my interviews and focus groups, and it continued throughout data collection, transcription, and the final writing up of results. This is the interpretive approach; interpretation permeates the process of any research study. 33


Analysis Confronted with a mountain of impressions, documents, and field notes, the qualitative researcher faces the difficult and challenging task of making sense of what has been learned. I call the making sense of what has been learned the art of interpretation (Denzin, 1994, p. 500). The Participants Before participation in the focus groups or interviews, the students reviewed the consent form and filled out a brief form regarding information about themselves (Appendix A and B, respectively). The purpose behind the form was to provide at least some rudimentary demographic information as well as information on the number of weekend classes the students had taken and the reasons they had for taking classes. This data, of course, is enriched by the qualitative data from their comments in the focus groups and interviews; it is meant to provide, however, an overview ofthe group composition. The ages of the students ranged from 22 to 46: three students were 20-24, 6 students were 25-29, 5 students were in their 30s, and 5 students were in their 40s. Fourteen women and five men participated in the study. Fourteen of the students were employed full-time, three students were employed part-time, and two students were not employed. Approximately half of the students (9) were parents and one student indicated that she was pregnant and soon to be a parent; the other half of the students (9) were not parents. Students identified their ethnicity/race as the following: 11 students wrote white or Caucasian, 5 students wrote Hispanic or Spanish, two students wrote African-American, and one student 34


wrote Pacific Islander. When asked to indicate a reason for taking classes: 15 students chose "Degree" (2 ofthese students also marked "Personal Interest"); one student chose "Other," and this student wrote in "to better prepare for degree classes" as well as "Personal Interest"; three students chose "Personal Interest" exclusively. Finally, 13 students had taken two or more (up to 5) Weekend College classes; 4 had taken one Weekend College class; and two of the students didn't indicate the number of classes taken although they must have taken at least one since I recruited for volunteers within the weekend classes. This last question was of interest to me because I had initially set a criterion for student participation that required them to have attended at least two weekend college classes. In the process of recruiting volunteers, I realized that I did not want to turn anyone away who was willing to offer their time and participation. From the interview and focus group data emerged a category that I simply labeled "identity"; these were the comments that students made about themselves mostly in response to the "tell me about yourself' part of the dialogue. What is interesting in these responses is the blending, the intersection of family identity, work identity, and student identity. Although I separated out family, student, and work identity in the database so I could examine each individually, what the participants said about who they are crosses these three areas of identity and, in many cases, also reveals personal aspirations, either academic or career, involved in these spheres. Some 35


representative student comments that reveal intersections of family/student identity and of work/student identity and of family/work/student identity: I am 34, I have 4 children, I returned back to school last spring, because I have a desire to get a law degree. And, umm, my previous Associate's Degree is 13 years old so I couldn't get the majority of the credits counted so I'm starting from scratch and I'm transferring to [a 4-year institution] next fall. And then when my littlest guy starts first grade, I'll be able to start law school. .. .I work full-time .. .I have two sisters-one of them has a Master's in finance, the other one has a Master's in law. And I never went to a university; I went to traditional arts and trade school, one was cosmetology and the other was secretarial. But those didn't really direct me the way that I, you know, that I wanted to go. I don't have any children, I am married. But I love children. I have two nephews, and I think I want to go into education, I don't know, public or private but I want to be an educator ... . I'm in the criminal justice field right now ummm I'm married with three daughters; been married 23 years same woman and how I came to be at Community College of Denver was I previously attended [a southern university] and was still interested in pursuing my degree and this was back in 1972-75 and with two daughters in college I thought that continuing education was very important so that is why here I transferred credits .. .I've got a 3.68 GPA, Phi Theta Kappa honors, so that's been an incentive for me to continue on. Many of the students are taking these classes to earn a degree (some with the plan to go on to graduate school) or to make a career advancement or a career change. Most of the students in the group seemed to have a direction, to have a goal; they present themselves as motivated students. Ofthe three students who did not indicate a specific goal, one student said that school was a "hobby" for him since he hadn't gone past the seventh grade, and this was his way of"catching up." Another 36


woman said that she took classes for personal interest and then qualified the statement and said that she "may end up getting a business degree." Although the students who participated in the study are a diverse group in terms of gender, ethnicity, background (e.g. four of the students are non-native English speakers from different countries), and age, they do share challenges associated with working full-time or part-time and/or associated with family responsibilities in addition to being a student. For only one of the youngest students in the study was it true that she was neither working nor a parent, in other words, a more "traditional" student. The aspects of work, family, and student identity that were brought forth by these motivated, adult learners inform their experiences and are a recurring theme in their satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the Weekend College. Positive Aspects ofExperience The participants spoke of many positive aspects oftheir experience as Weekend College students. The themes that emerged from their comments revolved around their construction of a Weekend College student identity, the convenience of the Weekend College, the relaxed atmosphere of the Weekend College, their relationships with peers in a classroom community, and their experiences of the teachers. 37


Before we launch into the analysis of students' experience of the Weekend College, it is important to note that several students who participated had taken both weekday and weekend classes. Although Matsen (1989) found this to complicate the quantitative part of her analysis of a weekend student population (p. 40), it is important to recognize that many of the participants in this study are enrolled in both formats. In this study it is interesting for two reasons: 1) students gave overall, general reasons that they like CCD not just the Weekend College specifically, and 2) students made comparisons between the weekday experience and the weekend experience. Regarding the former, students cited the low cost of education at CCD, the supportive learning environment (i.e. the learning center and availability of tutors), the location, the flexibility of formats (e.g. home-study), and the teachers. The weekday-weekend comparisons are evident in the following presentation of students' positive experiences of the Weekend College. Construction of a Weekend Student Identity. In all of the focus groups and in one ofthe interviews, students discussed the Weekend College student (including themselves) as having particular characteristics. The one interview in which this was not mentioned was with a woman who is a graduate student at a four-year university and is taking only one class to improve her writing skills. The "weekend student identity" was summed up by one ofthe international students this way: You know what I think? The people that go to the Weekend College and evening, like Friday evening and Saturday maybe are all in the same boat; we are having a profession, a job, but we really want to do something else. 38


We want to, we are concentrating, really focused because we want to learn. The day college students, go to day classes, they just go there I mean because maybe their parents sent them. Several students in this large focus group agreed with her statement about the weekend students. Another student in a smaller focus group "noticed ... a different kind of student, that attends .. .it seems like we had more mature students in the weekend classes" and continues that it was "a different kind of maturity ... [a]lmost like we, myself included, we took our classes more seriously, maybe because we had more invested in them." The two other students in this focus group followed up with statements about weekend students being "more serious about their education" and "who are probably a little bit more interested in the material at a I don't want to say age level but maybe maturity level." A male student in the first focus group explained that he comes to Weekend College with a "mindset focused to learn." In one of the interviews, a student said one of the reasons she liked the Weekend College was that "everybody who's there is pretty serious about their education because we're here on a weekend" and described herself at several points during the interview in a very positive light as a "nerd." In the last focus group, one woman echoed the comment made by the international student that the Weekend College "attracts the same kind of students that are in the same boat that I'm in ... adult, working parents, so we all have a lot in common ... From these students' comments it is clear that students enjoyed this constructed identity of the serious, 39


mature, focused student who is there to learn; it is a construction that reflects positively on them, on their peers, and on their perceptions of the Weekend College. Convenience (Family and Work Schedule). These students "in the same boat" as working adults, working parents, and full-time parents expressed that Weekend College met a real need for "convenience," an in vivo code since it was a word used frequently by the participants (Strauss & Corbin, pp. 115-116). What convenience meant in this context was the ability to schedule around work and family responsibilities as these two women explain: ... the weekends, the Friday nights and Saturday mornings, work much better than week nights. Because week nights are girl scouts and boy scouts and meetings and PTA and everything else so the weekends are usually not quite as demanding so I find it easier to attend those classes without having to sacrifice my family's responsibilities. I'm divorced. I am a full-time mom and that was part of the reason why I was taking the weekend courses as well. I'm working towards my Associate of Arts and I was taking weekend courses this past semester. This is my first semester after the divorce, so I was trying to work around his schedule. And that's why I was taking weekend classes. A man, who introduced himself as a full-time employee and a full-time father, repeated several times his need for a once a week classes and the fact that he liked the Weekend College because "it doesn't conflict with your schedule" and provided the "ideal situation ... where I take just one class a week and it's on the weekend." And, in addition, the convenience meant being able to compartmentalize the school experience from work or family life, i.e. to do school all at once so it would not interfere with other responsibilities: 40


You can focus more on what your plan is for the day, which is one thing, school; during the week you have to focus on work and then school, it just makes it a long day. A full-time mother with a full-time job describes it this way: "The hours worked for me. Most of the time I've taken courses in, on a Saturday morning and then I have the afternoon to devote to studies and that way it didn't take any time away from the busy week schedule of work and children and home life." Another woman with a small child told me that even though the "classes were long .. .it makes up for it because you only have to come once a week and I really enjoy that because as I said I don't like coming down here a lot .. .I really did enjoy being able to come on the weekends, it gave my husband and I a lot more options of what we could do." One student who works Monday-Friday, 8:00a.m.-5:00p.m., told the group why the weekend worked better for her than weekday classes: .. .I took two classes Friday evenings and Saturday mornings 'cause I want to get it over with right in three hours, five hours I don't care but one day so I just have to park one time .. .It just works out best. I don't want to come in for just one hour, struggling with traffic for half an hour, staying here for an hour, going back for half an hour .. .I don't want to do that so that's why I really like, I really enjoy [the Weekend College]. The participation in the focus group actually caused one student to reflect on this advantage ofthe Weekend College: Actually I had never thought about the one class meeting a week, it never entered my realm of rationalization in picking a class ... but I noticed this last semester the English class I took, I liked having that intensive, not just from getting to campus once a week perspective as opposed to twice a week, but just having that kind of intensive lay it all on me in, on one day and then I had a week to absorb it. I had a week between to really absorb it and do the 41


material, instead of only two days, because as a working professional, I don't always have Monday and Tuesday to do homework ... This category was "saturated"; there are more student comments in this area than I can report. There were a few other comments that fell under "convenience" that did not necessarily reflect a solution to the work/family schedule issues: a couple of students remarked that it was easier to find a parking space and one student liked that all ofher classes were in one building. The serious and focused Weekend College student, as constructed by the participants in the study, valued the convenience ofbeing able to take classes at one convenient time in order to balance work and family responsibilities. Relaxed Atmosphere. Perhaps in contrast to the busy lives of these students in which they rush from job to home to school, many of them commented on the "relaxed" environment of the Weekend College-the college itself was described as "quiet" and the students themselves expressed feeling more relaxed. One student explained that she is "[m]ore relaxed because the weekend I mean like every other day I would be more I don't know because during the week you work and everything and you have so many problems to deal with and on Saturdays I'm usually more relaxed, I just take it easier." And another student in the same group added that "when you're in an atmosphere to where you can actually do that, you know, that's a more advantage because like she says you want to learn and then you have the ability to actually concentrate without all the disturbances in the 42


background ... A number of students compared the atmosphere on the weekend to that of the weekday college: "I liked being able to walk down the halls and not having that many people fluttering around .. .it drives me nuts when I have to come down here during the week actually, you know, anyway, too many people in the halls and young people that have a different kind of energy than I do ... "I really liked it, it was quiet. It's a little stressful now coming back [to weekday classes] because it's so busy. You know I had to wait on line in the bathroom for like 20 minutes .. .I just liked [Weekend College], it was more relaxed ... Another woman summed up, "I like the attitude that everybody's more relaxed more maybe because we don't have to rush to come here and to leave." Classroom Community. Several students in the study spoke about their feelings of camaraderie and team building with their classmates. I began to think of this category of comments as representing a concept of "classroom community." A sense of community seemed to be contained within the classroom yet was very strong and was expressed as a highly positive aspect of the weekend students' experience. In what can be viewed as a highly diverse group of students in a classroom environment, one woman expressed her experience of the situation in the following way: .. .it's just that I seem to, it's like for me a bonding thing with my classroom. I can get to better understand, get to better like, like you're from [Europe], and I get to understand and .. .it makes me appreciate people more because I'm looking at all these people in the same area together, and they're getting along and going to school together and ... they're giving us some of their 43


background and we're giving them some of ours and to me that, I don t know, that's just fascinating .. Another male student described the classroom situation: "It motivates, I think we motivate each other-that's the feeling I get. I get to know different people in each class I take That's neat." The other student in that small group responded, "I think it develops camaraderie ... also." A male student in the large focus group also focused on the desirability of"bonding" with classmates: .. .ifi can't bond, ifi, I come to school because I want to bond with people, that are good people. I think that's the only place I know where to find good people, you can't go to a bar ... on the weekends it just seems like people are more relaxed and open, they'll talk to you .. In one case the "bonding" that takes place between students on a personal levelled to a more supportive learning environment; the woman who was so excited about meeting the different people in her class went on to say that "since I've gotten to know people in my classroom and know where their particular area of interest or uhh stuff is in class, I can ask them and they will most likely will help and so that's another good thing." The women in the last focus group both gave examples of "team building." One of the women said, "I like the weekend college, I've found that the long periods of time give you more time to work as a group and get to know the other classmates and do a lot of team building that you probably wouldn't find in the shorter classes." 44


In my focus group and interview questions I had asked a specific question regarding conununity, "Do you feel part of the college community?" Two students expressed that they did not feel part of the "social community" (i.e. events, activities) because they attend on weekends and that this was a negative for them. A few others responded that they did not feel part of the social community because it was not of interest to them and that they simply did not have enough time to be involved. As one student put it, "Well I haven't tried very hard [to be part ofthe community]. Since I'm a part of so many other communities that was not one of my goals, but I think ifl had wanted to, I could ... the truth is, you know, there is no more time, you know, to participate so I think the opportunity is there if you wanted it. .. but I wouldn't be surprised if most Weekend College students don't." A woman in the first focus group emphasized the time constraints in her feelings, "I don't feel I do because I only have two classes so I'm just here part-time and I don't have time for anything ... So I don't even want, I mean I would like to be a part but I just can't because there's no more time left." Another student commented that even just keeping in touch with school news and information was difficult, "we come and go to class and we leave. So there's at least for me, there's no loitering time. I never read the flyers that are posted on the poles, or I'm going too fast, I can't take the time to stop and participate in it in even at an adjunct level." However, he did feel "part of the educational community, as you [referring to another student in the focus group] were saying, I'm a student just like anyone else and work as hard or harder, 45


umm, to earn the same credits and do as well." Most comments as mentioned earlier showed that students valued the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the Weekend College and had a sense of community in the classroom. This is a sense of community that is built around a shared identity (the Weekend College student identity) and by the relationships that are built within a small classroom environment with peers and, as we are about to discover, with instructors. Teachers. You know, if the instructor comes on the weekends then you're both there, it shows a kind of a cohesiveness between both the student and the instructor. That a learning experience is going to take place. Students had complimentary things to say about CCD instructors in general not just about the Weekend College instructors. One student dialogue within the first focus group: "I really like CCD .. .I've always really liked this campus, the way it's set up and in the sense you know that teachers really do seem to ... "Care." "Care, yeah you know, to understand a problem or situation in class; you know they are very good about answering and not criticizing. The teachers have always been very helpful." Another woman in a different focus group said, "I've been very happy with my instructors at CCD both for the weekend courses and the regular courses. I've been very impressed with their commitment to the students and wanting, you know, to help students and their knowledge." However, the one aspect that students discussed as a definite advantage of the Weekend College was the class size -the small classes were mentioned over and over as a reason students liked the Weekend 46


College. When students elaborated on why the small classes were one of the aspects they liked best, it was clear that there was a connection between the small classes and the quality of their interactions with the instructors. The graduate student in describing her experience said that ... the group is smaller and make like a more personal teaching, you know, so it's, that's very nice." The quality of the interactions were characterized as "personal" and defined by the perceived amount of support and caring as well as the amount of time and attention students received from the instructor. One woman, a non-native English speaker, explained, I really like the teachers because they really help you a lot. You know the last semester it was my first semester uhhh I was taking an English and I really had a hard time because when I get here I don't speak English at all so that was really kind of hard. And, you know, during the day there was a lot of students in the class so even ifyou asked her, you know, she helps you but, you know, for example now [my Weekend College instructor] she was great, she was able to sit for like two hours with me, and, you know, like this, this, this so I really like that because the classes are real smaller and they really can spend time with you and explain you and everything. So that's really, really good. Another student told us that the reason he picked a weekend class was "because of the teacher. .. he bonds well with people. He's people-oriented, he cares about you, he shows that he cares about you, you feel that he cares about you. You want to do good in his class because of respect for him. Umm, weekdays the teacher, you know, it's, it's completely, there's like a wall between you and the teacher." In this focus group, several comparisons were made between the weekday and weekend instructors. A woman wrapped up a long description of a large, impersonal 47


weekday classroom and her lack of interest in the class for just this reason by saying that the weekend instructors" ... do give you a little bit more of themselves on the weekend. They try their hardest to just give you some of them. They don't rush you, they actually ... will sit there and explain it and continue to ask you, 'did you understand it?' And if, you know, they feel that you are not comprehending then they come over to you ... that makes a great difference ... [ t ]hat's the big difference for me for weekend classes. The personal contact with your teacher." Several students also remarked that they appreciated the flexibility of the instructors at the Weekend College. The instructors were more willing to accommodate their needs as adults with jobs and families than weekday instructors. One woman told us that "they have understanding about your job, you can say oh, you know, sometimes you cannot finish up your work because you need to go to your own job and they give you sometimes not, not all teachers but some teachers." Another woman with a large family explained that the instructors are "[ e ]ven flexible in the ability to bring your children if you have to bring your children. I've seen that done several times, and I've even had to do that on one or two occasions." From my experience and my co-director's experience we have seen children in the classrooms on a number of occasions. In fact, participants asked if they could bring children to the focus groups, and children came with their parents to two of the four groups. Students also remarked on the flexibility of instructors in helping students make up 48


for missed class time. In one of the focus groups, two women agreed that one of the disadvantages of the Weekend College was that if "you miss one week, you miss a lot." The women went on to describe how individual instructors provided them options to deal with this: one instructor "allowed you if you missed a class that you could make it up by going to his other classes during the week ... and another instructor "[gave] you other options so that if you missed a class you could do a paper or you could do some research ... and make up for it." I think that it's very important to have a good teacher because ifl don't have a good teacher for sure I won't come. A number of students took the opportunity in the focus groups and interviews to tell me how much they had liked an individual teacher. As one woman remarked, "To tell you the truth I am taking this class only because I was searching for a good teacher at the time that I am available ... [a]nd I went to several classes with different teachers and found out that which is really a very, very good teacher. And that's why I sacrificed to come on Saturdays." Phrases used by the students to describe the instructors ranged from "wonderful" to "excellent" to "really nice" to "out of sight." One student wanted me to know that "You guys have some great instructors. You really do." 49


Negative Aspects ofExperience Most ofthe negative aspects brought up in the conversations by the students are united under the theme of convenience. Although "convenience" was an area in which Weekend College was definitely meeting student needs in terms of time and scheduling around work and family responsibilities, the Weekend College was not meeting these students' needs in other areas. These areas are 1) the availability of services encompassing everything from student services (registrar, financial aid, advising) to more mundane, yet extremely important, concerns such as parking services as well as 2) the lack of course availability at the Weekend College. Services. As the students' comments have reinforced, their lives are already consumed by family and work responsibilities; they have chosen to make school a part of that busy lifestyle and need their Weekend College experience to be convenient so that they can "get it all done at one time" and not have to come to the campus during the week. This was a constant refrain in the dialogue with students. The most frequently mentioned services that students wanted available to them are what CCD refers to as Student Services, i.e. registrar, financial aid, and advising. A student lamented ... . on the weekend I do run into a problem because like I said my weekday is pretty filled and sometimes I have to ask, I have to set up special appointments to talk to just like a counselor about setting up a schedule or something .. .I wish Saturdays were more open like that they had umm ohh I don't know how to say it but, you know, like some of the offices open so you can talk to instead of, while I'm already down here I'd like to be able to 50


set up appointments. And often they're closed during, on the weekends just open like the 8:00 to 5:00. Her colleague in the focus group told me, "As I said the thing with Weekend College, you have to look at, if people are coming to Weekend College, it's already established that they can't get here during the week so we need some type of means to communicate on the weekends once we get here." A student in the large focus group shared her experience with registration, "That's another thing, I don't, I didn't like too much when I registered. I had to come on my lunch break which is from 11:30 to 12:30 because they're closed at 5 o'clock and I work 'til 5:00, and I hated it, it's just the worst that ever happened to me. They should really change that so only on maybe two or one days they have it 'til 6:00. I think there was only one day, I can't remember ... A woman in a third focus group found it "very difficult to get an advisor and talk to someone to get the same answer from different people so I guess I kind of fall into that category of, you know, accumulating many credits and not really having a plan because it's very difficult to find someone to talk to." And in one of the interviews, a woman made the point that "[ f]inancial aid is the key; 'cause I know I'm on financial aid and most of the people on weekend school are ... and your education is like depending on it, it's important for that to be open ... Financial aid I usually have to come here no matter what question I have, because it's really frustrating in the financial aid office; so I usually come down here so they can look on their computer and I can talk to them." One student 51


mentioned that service from the administrative side was important as well; when asked what she would do if she were the director of the program, she promptly replied, "I'd be more available .. .I know who you are because I've done this several times but I think everybody should know who you and [the other co-director] are .. .I don't know if all students feel like they have you to go to when they have instructor problems, proctoring problems, test problems, whatever. .it, you know, sometimes the roles aren't very clear because they are a little different with the Weekend College ... Students suggested solutions to the services situation. One man recommended "a liaison office that would encompass financial aid, admissions, student services, counseling ... and another proposed "a Weekend College advisor ... who came in at maybe Saturday, Friday night for maybe an hour or two just so he's there, he would be the one driving this whole Weekend College thing I think because he would know what people are gearing their degrees toward or, you know, the type of student who's doing the Weekend College thing ... As with the latter student, most participants were uniformly modest in their recommendations on improving this aspect of the Weekend College to best serve their needs. One student suggested that "if it was known that the first Saturday of every month these services will be available or something. Not necessarily every Saturday, but just knowing okay I need to do whatever so I know I can go this Saturday after class this will be open for 52


me." And another tried to figure out which times in the semester would be the best for services to be open"You know, someone doesn't need to be around all the time. But the hardest are I think are at the middle of the semester and at the end when you have to get all your registration forms, your financial aid forms, and a lot of us, well I know a lot of people work 9:00 to 5:00 ... a lot of people are like this is insane, I can't come any time but this." A few students requested that these services be available "before the classes started and after the classes were over" for an hour or two. One wanted the "financial aid office or maybe some of the other services [to be] open a little bit later I'm not saying to be open 'til 10:00 at night but maybe 6:00 or 7:00 have the financial aid office or something open." In addition to the other student services mentioned most frequently, one student wondered about the hours of the Career Services Center and inquired whether that was available to the weekend students. Although these "Student Services" were the ones most frequently mentioned, the need for other services (tutoring labs, daycare, cafeteria, etc.) was raised as well in the focus groups and interviews. One woman in the large focus group mentioned that the tutoring labs needed to stay open later on the weekends and several students agreed with her. She explained that by the time she got out of her Saturday morning class, the lab was only open for another 30 minutes. She emphasized that 53


... the lab it helps, it helps a lot, and for those of us that really need the help like for myself, when I need writing, the computer, the English, and stuff like that, and I can't [get] it done during the week. Or ifl just take weekend classes and I don't have nobody to help me but for 30 minutes, by the time I actually get into what's going on, it's time to go, and so that's the only thing I've seen so far that I wish they could change or adjust. One of t.he nine parents in the group mentioned the need for daycare. When asked what she liked least about the Weekend College, she replied, "Well the problem that I had was daycare. And it was a major, major issue for me taking weekend classes and that's a major reason why I'm taking classes during the week this semester is because I'll have daycare and be able to. Whereas, you know, on Saturdays and Friday nights that there isn't any. [My son] ended up coming to several of my Saturday morning classes with me." A few students mentioned that they would like the cafeteria to be open on weekends since all they have available to them are "those little high-priced machines." Parking is a campus-wide issue. CCD students, faculty, and staff complain about the cost of parking and the difficulty in finding a parking place. These negatives were reinforced by the participants in the focus groups and interviews: "My worst problem was really the parking; two times in the whole thing I couldn't find parking ... so I really was thinking that I would change the CCD to a different community college just because I wouldn't have to pay for parking." A few students found the parking situation to be better on weekends since there were more 54


spaces available. However, the way in which the parking situation impacts weekend students versus weekday students is more from the perspective of parking as a service. One of the student comments is a clear example, "So last night the parking attendants leave, like I was trying to pull in at 5:30 and there was no parking attendant so you have to use the machine and that, we could not, there were two of us trying to get that machine to work ... Another student reflected on the fact that there were no park;ing attendants "[u]ntil they want to give you a ticket. But not if you want to ask them to escort you somewhere or help fix a tire or something like that as they say in the pamphlet we get. You might wait forever on weekends." And finally one student recalled that "the parking meters were all jammed up and you couldn't [get] any money in them and there was no one around to fix them ... The students share the negative feelings about parking campus-wide yet have an additional complaint for the weekend in that they lack personal service from attendants. Course Availability. After services, quantity of course offerings on the weekend was the second most expressed need. The Weekend College offers between 35 and 40 course sections during a 15-week semester; however, if enrollment is low, we are often put in the position where we have to cancel classes. One student made it clear that students would like to take only weekend classes but "that there comes a time in a Weekend College where you have to switch over to the other classes 'cause there's only so many courses they give us here, and you can 55


only go so far with it before we have to change over [to] full-time, weekday classes." Another student who was concerned with the differences between weekday and weekend offerings told me that "some of my classes that I have to do during the week they didn't offer them on Saturday so maybe they could give us a better variety of classes on the weekend." In the same context, a woman in an interview felt that "it was all computer classes mostly." The classes that she needed specifically for her degree program in Psychology weren't offered at the times that she needed them. One student compared CCD's weekend offerings with another local community college and said that he had looked at their schedule and "they offer quite a bit more as far as variety of courses." The student refrain on courses was "more options." A few students recommended having other times available for classes, i.e. more Saturday afternoon or even Sunday classes. Some of the students offered suggestions on scheduling. One gentleman advocated a more "proactive" rather than "reactive approach"; he suggested a special "preliminary registration" for Weekend College students exclusively in which they could indicate which classes they most desired. Another student suggested giving the Weekend College Survey earlier in the semester (before students were "fried" from attending weekend classes) to find out which offerings, days and times they would prefer. As she said, "by the end of the semester. .. we don't want to say we want come on Sundays because we're so sick of school, you know, but ifyou would 56


ask me in the beginning, I'd be like 'Sundays,' but by then I'm like, 'Oh no keep it the way it is,' you know?" One last note: a few students complained that they felt that they had no weekend. One ofthe male students explained that he "had a couple ofpart-timejobs" in addition to his full-time job so he "never had a Saturday off" One woman regretted that she did not have the weekend to spend time with her children -"They've been hollering, 'Mom, let's go skiing, morn, let's go skiing so that s what we're doing for the next month." A few students thought the classes should start later so that at least they could sleep in late. For most of the students, however, and even for these particular students, despite this situation, they had made a commitment to attending weekend classes and had chosen to sacrifice their free time in order to pursue their educational goals. Summary The themes that emerged from the data did provide very satisfying answers to the questions that were the impetus for the study. Who are the students? Why are they here? What do they like and dislike about their Weekend College experience? They are a diverse group of students in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, background, and educational interests yet they have constructed a shared identity as serious, mature Weekend College students. They are at the Weekend College because it is 57


convenient for them; it enables them to balance work and family responsibilities. They value the small classroom environment, the relaxed nature of the Weekend College, and the personal interaction with fellow students and with instructors. They need more services available to them on the weekends as well as a larger range of course offerings. 58


CHAPTER4 CONCLUSION Reflections on the Study Weekend College Student Identity Students constructed a Weekend College student identity (a serious, mature, focused student), and I was most interested in the ways this construction was expressed by the students and how it was accomplished in the dialogue. Identity is expressed in relation, formed in relationship, and is "situated" in a relational context (Shotter & Gergen, 1994). For the participants, there are several different relationships involved-the relationship of the students with each other in the Weekend College, the relationship of the students with me in the context of the interviews and focus groups, and the relationship of the weekend students and the weekday students. Each person is multiple in their identities (Gergen, 1998) as expressed in the student descriptions of themselves revealing work, family, and student identities. However, in the context of this discussion in which the setting has defined them as students and in which I had given a message that I was interested in their experiences as students, the participants focused on a student identity and what meaning it held for them. For some of the students, the pronoun use of"I" indicated that this was an expression of their own personal identity as a student ("I'm such a nerd" "I've got a 59


mindset focused to learn"); these were expressions of 'who I am as a student.' Yet this individual identity is enmeshed with the overall construction of the Weekend College student identity. In the majority of the student comments in this category, "we" was used by the students to show inclusiveness, indicating a group identity ("we, myself included, ... "; "we all have a lot in common"; "we want to learn"; etc.) For some of the participants, this social identity was constructed by "othering" the weekday students (Fine, 1994); "The day college students ... they just go there I mean because maybe their parents sent them" and "You're not going to have your basic college party animal showing up to class every Friday night" were two of the many comments referencing the weekday students. They assigned positive characteristics to the Weekend College student identity by attributing negative characteristics (and, therefore, an identity) to the weekday students: they were not as serious about their education, they were not as mature, they probably did not pay for their education, and they were not as focused. The shared identity of the participants was a positive reflection of themselves in relationship to all Weekend College students, in relationship to me as co-director of the Weekend College, and to the "othered" weekday students. The identity was constructed within the conversations, and through the conversations was communicated to themselves and to me; the identity arose out of the situation, the context, and the relationships. 60


Convenience/Inconvenience When convenience is the goal, the Weekend College is meeting students' needs, on the one hand, by offering classes on the weekend, and, on the other hand, it is not providing them with the complete package of services or complete range of course offerings that traditional, weekday students have available to them. This major theme of the study was not a surprising finding; it is a given that Weekend College programs are offered for students who are unable to or choose not to attend during the week. Convenience, as evidenced in the studies reviewed in Chapter 2, figured prominently as a main reason students attend Weekend College programs across the country. As Overall et al. (1991) summed up as a perceived strength of the Weekend College format, "With all the personal and professional responsibilities facing adults, they are better able to handle courses offered 'one chunk at a time' in formats like that characteristic of Weekend College" (p. 21 ). The need for services and an increased quantity and variety of course offerings are what students expressed they most needed to make the Weekend College experience easier and, therefore, more convenient for them. As mentioned in the literature review, the minimal services provided on the weekends and the need for more services has been documented at many of the institutions. Despite Rountree's (1987) finding that "[t]he best weekend colleges in the nation operate successfully with limited student services available on weekends" (p. 89), she recognized that "[i]n order for non traditional students to fully participate in higher education, flexible course 61


scheduling through the weekend college is not sufficient without providing student services. Access to student services is equally critical for non-traditional learners, according to Hall (1980)" (p. 21). What did surprise me about the weekend student's recommendations and proposed solutions to this problem was that they asked for much less than I anticipated. My initial assumption going into the study was that students would feel significantly more entitled to services that they have paid fees for and which are not available to them on the weekends. However, the students suggested having offices open and staff available to them for a couple of hours on Friday or Saturday. Their perceived need will be easier to address and to meet than the need I had assumed, i.e. that services would need to be available for the entire weekend, every weekend. Community What I learned about community from the focus groups and interviews was significantly different from what I had anticipated. I held a working assumption that weekend students did not feel part of the college community in terms of social integration (Bean & Metzner, 1985, p. 520) and that this would be perceived by most ofthem as a negative aspect of their experience. The strength of my assumption is revealed in that "Do you feel a part of the college community?" is the only "closed" question I asked students (Appendix A, Question 6). Although it was 62


perceived as a negative by two students, my sense is that students only reflected on and responded to this question because I asked it in this fashion. Otherwise, I am not sure the idea of a "being part of the college community" would have emerged as a theme. One student interpreted the meaning of community in response to this question in two different ways, i.e. as being part of a "social community" or as being part of an "educational community." This distinction is interesting in considering the responses that spoke to a sense of community that arose more naturally out of the focus group and interview discourse. Students spoke to a different sense of community, i.e. a community that developed within their classrooms. This theme emerged from the students' general responses to what students liked the most about WEC; only one student mentioned classroom community as a direct response to the "community" question. Overall et al. (1991) claimed that a "perceived [strength]. .. of the Weekend College format from the curricular point of view [is that] ... [t]hose weekend classes that meet for more than a couple of hours enable students to form stronger social bonds, thus strengthening the quality ofthe interaction during group projects" (p. 21, emphasis mine). The students spoke about this concept of forming relationships and bonds with their peers. Students talked about a sense of community ("bonding," "team building," "personal relationships") within the classroom. The definition of community constructed in the students' discussion more closely resembles the aspect of 63


"college community" addressed by Naretto (1995) that emphasized the importance of personal relationships with peers, instructors, and staff (p. 92). When I consider my own observations at the Weekend College (I have noticed that the classrooms I visit are often engaged in potlucks, that classes come to the Open House events as a group, and that students hang outside the classroom with the instructor), this concept of community within the classroom does not come as such a surprise. The students articulated a definition of community that they value as a positive dimension of their experience; I had not considered this more intimate idea of community within the classroom at the outset of the study. Small Classrooms. Teachers. Relaxed Atmosphere The classroom community is built within the individual, small classes in the context of a relaxed atmosphere-it is a caring, learning environment with opportunities for one-one-one work with instructors and with other students. The students expressed that a smaller classroom environment allowed the instructor to give them more time and attention, and this corresponds to a finding in one program evaluation that ... a warmer bond is established between students and the faculty members. Smaller class size is a distinct advantage as it allows for more interaction between the students and the professor" (Rountree, 1987, p. 17). In addition, students in this study spoke to the flexibility, the understanding, and the overall quality of the Weekend College instructors. Students were able to give voice to what they value 64


about the instructors in the Weekend College; in a written survey, students are often only asked to rank or rate the quality of teaching. As for students' positive experience of a relaxed atmosphere, it has been indicated by James East that an advantage of the Weekend format is that it "is less hectic and more inviting to those who have been away from college for a long period oftime" (Goddard, 1993, pp. 17-18). Students in this study did enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and found it more conducive to their own learning and personality styles. Students' voices in this study added more to brief references in the literature in the areas of the perceived benefits of smaller classrooms, their personal interactions with teachers, as well as the relaxed atmosphere in a Weekend College program. Recommendations The Weekend College needs to look at ways in which student services and other services can be offered to students on the weekends; we are defeating the raison d'etre of Weekend College if students have to make additional trips to campus during the week to avail themselves of student and other services. One option would be to extend the hours of particular student services on Fridays and Saturdays. As the students suggested, the hours do not need to exceed a few additional hours on Friday and Saturday before or after classes; the services do not necessarily need to be open all semester. Even a few weekends at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester when students' needs are greatest would meet the 65


demand. Any new hours would need to be well-publicized (perhaps through a special mailing) so that students would be aware of them. Another option would be to open a staffed liaison office on campus for the Weekend College director or coordinator who could act as a generalist in the areas of advising, registration, and financial aid. Currently our office is located off campus, and, although we visit the Weekend College a minimum of 6 times per semester, we are not available to students or instructors every weekend. Personal contact was a leitmotif in the data; students in the Weekend College want personal contact, one-on-one interactions whether it is with administrators, parking attendants, teachers, counselors, and other students. Solutions to the services' issue that do not involve this kind of personal contact (e.g. online information or automated telephone system) probably will not be acceptable to this student. Although they might provide "convenience," these students want convenience with personal contact; this is something college personnel refer to as a "high touch" approach and something that we pride ourselves as a college in delivering to our students. The other main need that students raised was for more course options on the weekends. Again, a solution that might work for expanding course options outside ofthe traditional classroom (e.g. home-study, telecourses, online courses) that does 66


not involve the face-to-face, personal interaction with instructors and other students may not appeal to this student. There are adequate course options in these formats so that a student could complete his/her entire degree with a combination of distance learning courses and Weekend College courses. However, the Weekend College students have expressed that they value the small classroom environment, the camaraderie, the bonding with classmates, and the interaction with the instructor; these elements are more difficult to create and sustain in a distance format. The effort to provide more course offerings is an on-going goal of the Weekend College program. An effort to offer a complete degree on the weekends is being pursued, and further research into the most popular degree programs at the college would be helpful in making future scheduling decisions for the WEC. Teachers play a central role in the success of the Weekend College and in the positive perceptions that students hold of the program. It would be interesting to conduct a similar qualitative study with the Weekend College instructors to explore their perceptions of the program, to understand what their needs are on the weekends, and to see what suggestions they have for program improvement. This type of feedback from the Weekend College instructors would be very valuable. Although we survey the students each semester, we have not surveyed the instructors. Their voices would be a welcome addition to the conversation. 67


As mentioned at the outset, this study was limited in a number of ways. We only have the perceptions of a small group of successful students within the Weekend College program. We do not have the input of students who were unsuccessful (i.e. dropped out or withdrew) in the weekend format. We also do not have information from students who might be potential students of the Weekend College but are excluded from participation by institutional barriers. One such population might be working, single parents who need daycare provided at the Weekend College. Future studies might look at surveying potential students in the college's service area to assess their needs and potential baniers to entry. If the program is hoping to expand and meet the needs of students who cannot attend during the week, this type of research will be important in identifying these new, potential students and further areas for improvement. Musings on Implications Within the context of the study and the context of relationships, the Weekend College students articulated an identity as well as a sense of community. As an educational researcher-practitioner, I want to make sense of these more theoretical findings that emerged from this grounded study. How have the findings influenced my beliefs about adult learning within the context of this discourse about the Weekend College? Specifically I am concerned with two questions: 1) How has what I have learned about identity and identity construction impacted my 68


understanding of the Weekend College students and 2) How has what I have learned about community challenged my thinking about what it means to build community at the Weekend College? Since the construction of a Weekend College student identity was a positive aspect of students' experience, I am interested in what meaning this has for adult learners and their success in a program. As I mentioned at the outset of this study, the "nontraditional" students are often set at the margins of the institution both in terms of how they are defined by the institution and how they are treated by the institution. I felt it was critical to provide these students with an opportunity to add their voices to a discourse that is ultimately about their own experience. What is so powerful about the research findings in the area of identity is that the students in the study did not accept the definition of "nontraditional" student that is part of the community college thinking, i.e. a definition of nontraditional that sees these students as something other than "real" students. In my mind, the students have made a move from object to subject positioning; that is, a move from a notion of nontraditional student as defined by the community college culture to a constructed Weekend College student identity which places their experiences at the center. What is of additional interest is that this move was accomplished by othering the "traditional" weekday students; in order to construct a positive individual and group student identity, the discourse reproduced a similar structure that essentialized the 69


experiences and identity of the weekday students. The students' construction of an identity as a positive aspect of their learning experience was achieved through the conversation with me and with the other students. Although this constructed identity was a valuable part of their student experience, it may not have been reflected upon or articulated without a forum in which to explore the meanings of their student experience. The relationship between this identity construction and a sense of community is much clearer to me as well. Partly from my own experiences as a college student, partly from my interpretation of the college culture, and partly from my reading about adult learning, I held a belief that the Weekend College students would not have a sense of community because they are isolated from the social events and the day-to-day activities of the college during the week. I was entertaining a more abstract idea of community that involved identifying with the institution ("being part of the college community") that I assumed these students would perceive as missing from their experience. Although a few students did interpret community in this way when asked directly, the meaning of community that was constructed by the students revealed a more intimate definition of community. The students perceived community within the concrete, personal interactions they had with their peers and instructors. It is not through some abstract identification with the Community College of Denver nor through concrete involvement in the college's 70


social activities that provides these students with a sense of community. It is through interpersonal classroom relationships that community is built, and it is through these interactions that their identity as Weekend College students is affirmed. As many of the students explicitly remarked, they do not have a need to be part of the college community in the social sense; however, they have constructed supportive communities within their classrooms that are meaningful to their learning experience. These ideas about identity and community (constructed through conversations) raise questions about how to provide students with opportunities to engage in discussions about their experiences. These conceptions also ask us to think about how as educators we can come to recognize and value the meanings that students make of their own experiences, and, especially, their self-definition as students and their sense of community. The findings on community and identity in this study also raise additional questions about how to approach program evaluation and assessment. These questions and concerns will be at the forefront of my thinking as I continue to work with the Weekend College and with adult learners. Summary In speaking with students, in listening to their narratives, and in interpreting the information, a greater awareness of who these students are and why they have 71


chosen to be at the Weekend College has emerged. An understanding of their personal and group constructions of identity and understanding of the meaning they make of their experience is valuable to me as an administrator and as an educational researcher. From the literature review and my personal experience with educational evaluation, I had anticipated that from the analysis of the data, categories would emerge around the concepts of identity, convenience, and community; these categories did not in each case, however, emerge as I had expected. In addition, the importance of personal contact with instructors and peers was emphasized. Although it is hoped that this study will provide information that will lead to program changes, in and of itself, the study has given student voices a formal entree into the discussion about the program. I hope that others can benefit from the evaluation and view these interpretations within the context of their own program. As a qualitative study, I hope that it may serve as a welcome addition to the quantitative research we currently do within the college and as a model for future educational research at the Community College of Denver and at other community colleges. Denzin argues that this is the direction that social science research is going; what he sees is "[ m ]ore action, activist oriented research ... [t]he search for grand narratives will be replaced by more local, small-scale theories fitted to specific problems and specific situations" (Denzin, 1996, p. 135). What is learned about education from localized, interpretivist 72


research projects and from this project in particular will add to "knowledge" as Smith describes it. Knowledge is a list that can be added to, changed, and redefined as meanings and understandings change and evolve and is "constantly modified by practice" (Smith, 1990, p. 178). 73


APPENDIX A FOCUS GROUP AND INTERVIEW QUESTIONS Focus Group and Interview Questions : 1) What is your experience as a student taking weekend classes? (How would you describe your experience as a Weekend College student? What can you tell me about your experience as a WEC student?) 2) Why did you choose weekend classes? (What reasons do you have for taking weekend classes?) 3) What do you like best about taking weekend classes? Why? 4) What do you like least about weekend classes? Why? 5) What would make being a weekend student easier? (How could your experience be improved?) 6) Do you feel part of the college community? Why or why not? 7) If you were imagining a weekend college, what ideally would you want to see? (What would the ideal Weekend College look like?) 8) If you were the weekend college director, what would you do for students? 74


APPENDIXB STUDENT INFORMATION FORM Please fill out the following: Ao-e 0-Male/Female Number of Weekend College Classes (completed or in progress) __ Reason for taking classes: Degree Certificate --_Personal Interest _Other, Please specify: Employment Status: Full-time Part-time _Not Applicable Race!Ethnicity (please specify):. ___________ Are you a parent? _Yes No 75


REFERENCES Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: A Revolutionary Approach to Man's Understanding ofHimself New York: Ballentine Books. Bean, J.P., & Metzner, B.S. (1985). A conceptual model of nontraditional undergraduate student attrition. Review of Educational Research. 55, 485-539. Belenky, B. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women's Ways ofKnowing: The Development of Self. Voice. and Mind. USA: Basic Books, Inc. Capps, J. (1985). Report on Evening StudentsProfile and Weekend College Survey, Spring Semester, 1985. Somerville, NJ: Somerset County College. (ERIC No. ED 254 294) Community College ofDenver Annual Report. (1997-1998). Denver, CO: Office of Institutional Advancement. CoplandWood, B. A. (1985). Older Commuter Students and the Collegiate Experience: Involved or Detached? Paper presented at the Conference of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (Milwaukee, WI). (ERIC No. ED 263 398) Davidson, A. L. (1996). Making and Molding Identity in Schools. Albany: State University ofNew York Press. De Lauretis, T. (1994). The essence ofthe triangle or, taking the risk of essentialism seriously: Feminist theory in Italy, the U.S., and Britain. InN. Schor & E. Weed (Eds.), The Essential Difference. Indianapolis: University oflndiana Press. Denzin, N. K. (1994). The art and politics of interpretation. InN. Denzin andY. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook ofOualitative Research (pp. 500-515). Thousand Oaks: Sage. Denzin, N. K. (1996). The epistemological crisis in the human disciplines: Letting the old do the work of the new. In R. Jessor, A. Colby, and R. A. Schweder (Eds.), 76


Ethnography and Human Development: Context and Meaning in Social Inquirv. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Deyhle, D. L., Hess, A. G., & LeCompte, M.D. (1992). Approaching ethical issues for qualitative researchers in education. In LeCompte, Millroy, Preissle (Eds.), The Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. San Diego: Academic Press Inc. East, J. R. (1988). Teaching on Weekends and in Shopping Centers: A Guide for Colleges and Universities. Indianapolis: Indiana University-Purdue University, Division of Continuing Studies. (ERIC No. ED 291 328) Feinstein, 0., & Angelo, F. (1977). To Educate the People: An Experimental Model for Urban Higher Education for the Working Adult. Detroit: Wayne State University, Center for Urban Studies. Fine, M. (1994). Working the hyphens: Reinventing self and other in qualitative research. In E. Guba & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Gergen, K. J. (1998). The dissolution of the self. InS. Cahill (Ed.), Inside Social Life: Readings in Sociological Psychology and Microsociology. Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing Company. Gilligan, C. (1977). In a different voice: Women's conception of self and morality. Harvard Educational Review, 47: 481-517. Goddard, S. L. (1993). A study of student demographics, class scheduling, weekend program offerings, and their relationship for an urban based multi-campus community college (Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University, 1993). Greene, J. C. (1994). Qualitative program evaluation: Practice and promise .. .In Handbook of Qualitative Research. Greenland, A. (1993). It's time to get rid of nontraditional students (the label, not the people)! Contemporary Education. 64 (3), 183-186. Grosz, E. (1994). Sexual difference and the problem of essentialism. InN. Schor & E. Weed (Eds.), The Essential Difference. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1989). Fourth Generation Evaluation. Newbury Park: Sage Publications. 77


Guerin, R. E., & Reedy, K. (1979). The weekend college as an educational community: A study in participant observation. Unpublished master's thesis, Saint Xavier College, Chicago. Hall, R. M. (1980). Re-Entry Women: Part-Time Emollment. Full-Time Commitment. Washington, DC: Department of Education. (ERIC No. 196 335) Hecht, A (1991). Weekend Classes at Parkland College. Champaign, IL: Parkland College. (ERIC No. ED 331 537) Kelly, D. K. (1997). Weekend college: Learning paradigm for adult learners. The Catalyst. 27 (2), 3-5. John Tyler Community College Weekend College: The First Semester. (1995). Chester, VA: John Tyler Community College, Office of Assessment, Research, and Planning. (ERIC No. ED 387 156) Lucas, J. A (1992). Survev ofWeekend and Evening Student and Faculty Needs (Vol. XXI, No.3). Palatine, IL: William Harper Rainey College. (ERIC No. ED 364 286) Matsen, M. (1989). Weekend College at Lane Community College: A Profile of Student Characteristics. Eugene, OR: Lane Community College. (ERIC No. ED 306 996) Meyer, R. E. (1980). A profile of the weekend college and its student population in a public community college with an evaluation of the delphi technique for estimating student population characteristics. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Washington University. Miles, B. M., & Huberman, A M. (1994). An Expanded Sourcebook: Qualitative Data Analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Mohanty, C. T. (1991). Under western eyes: Feminist scholarship and colonial discourses. In C. Mohanty, A Russo, & L. Torres (Eds.), Third World Women and the Politics ofFeminism. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Neuman, W. L. (1990). The meaning of methodology. In Social Research Methods. New York: Allyn Bacon. 78


Naretto, J. A. (1995). Adult student retention: The influence of internal and external communities. NASPA Journal. 32. (2), 90-97. Overall, J. U., Miklich, B. A., & Snow, J. M. (1991). Weekend college: Assessing the reality and the promise. Paper presented at the National Conference on the Adult Learner. (ERIC No. ED 339 283) Pitman, M. A., & Maxwell, J. A. (1992). Qualitative approaches to evaluation: Models and methods .. .ln The Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. Report of the Student Evaluation of the Milwaukee Area Technical College 1985 Weekend College. (1985). Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Area Technical College, Department ofResearch, Planning, and Development. (ERIC No. ED 260 761) Rountree, J. S. (1987). The identification of the characteristics common to the operation of the best weekend colleges in the nation (Doctoral dissertation, Oklahoma State University, 1987). Schwandt, T. A. (1994). Constructivist, interpretivist approaches to human inquiry ... In Handbook of Qualitative Research. Shotter, J., & Gergen, K. J. (1994). Social construction: Knowledge, self, others, and continuing the conversation. Communication Yearbook, 17, 3-33. Sigworth, D., & Utley, J. (1995). Weekend College Survey Report. Schoolcraft College. Livonia, MI: Schoolcraft College. (ERIC No. ED 387 189) Smith, J. K. (1990). Alternative research paradigms and the problem of criteria. In E. Guba (Ed.), The Paradigm Dialog. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Smith, J. K. (1989). The Nature of Social and Educational Inguiry: Empiricism versus Interpretation. Norwood: Ablex Publishing Corporation. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Valadez, J. (1993). Cultural capital and its impact on the aspirations of nontraditional community college students. Community College Review. 21 (3), 3043. 79


Warner, C. E., & Dishner, N. L. (1997). Creating a learning community for adult undergraduate students Journal of College Student Development. 38. (5), 542-543. 80