An Assessment of the Academic and Social Integration as Perceived by the Students in the University of Papua New Guinea




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An Assessment of the Academic and Social Integration as Perceived by the Students in the University of Papua New Guinea

Muhammad Abdul Mannan

University of Papua New Guinea


This study determined the current and ideal levels of academic and social integration within the University of Papua New Guinea as perceived by the students. In order to reduce student attrition through developing an appropriate attrition policy and improving services, a comprehensive picture of the current and ideal academic and social integration climate in the University of Papua New Guinea was necessary. Previous attrition/retention research has not adequately described the varying degrees of group differences in the students’ integration process. Using the Tinto model and research instruments that operationalised the model, an institutional academic and social integration assessment instrument was developed for measuring the perceived current and ideal integration climate. Respondent’s perceived ideal ratings for 24 items representing five dimensions of academic and social integration were higher than for the current ratings. Significant differences were found between the current and ideal perceptions of student groups in respect of a) students’ informal contact with faculty; b) faculty concern for students’ development and teaching and c) extra curricular activities. Differences were found between the perceived ratings of student groups on the basis of year of studies. Implications for policy directives and discriminatory service delivery are discussed.

Research in the area of student attrition in colleges and universities has long been of interest to practitioners and administrators of these institutions. Increased enrolment pressure, funding constraints, and calls for accountability provide fresh challenges for the practitioners and administrators to develop policies for minimising loss of human potential and wasted resources (Barr, 1994). “Issue of graduate productivity has been receiving fresh attention and institutional monitoring of student progress and dropout has become more common for increasing efficiency and effectiveness” (OECD, 1987, p24).


Early research in this field was discipline based and described the relationship between context events and student dropout (Iffert, 1957; Summerskill, 1962; Astin 1964; Marks, 1967; and Cope and Hannah, 1975). The ex-post facto nature of these efforts tried to discover from student pre-college records what factors might have been causing some students to dropout instead of searching for the predictors of dropout (Pantages and Creedon, 1978). In recent years, however, research in student dropout has become more sophisticated, with one important development being a theoretical model to guide future inquiry on student dropout by Tinto (1975). According to the Tinto model, students’ background characteristics determine how a student will relate to the academic system of an institution. The nature and quality of these interactions lead to varying degrees of integration into the college or university system, which ultimately influences the students’ persistence, or leads to dropout.
Conceptualising attrition, Spady (1971) emphasises the influence of social integration, whereas Tinto argues for the importance of the interacting influence of integration into the social and academic system of institutions. According to Tinto (1975):
Given individual characteristics, prior experiences and commitments, …….it is the individuals’ integration into academic and social system of the college that most directly related to his continuance in that college. …..Other things being equal, the higher the degree of integration of the individual into the college system, the greater will be his commitment to the specific institution and to the goal of college completion (p96).
Based on their studies in single institutions, Pascarella and Terenzini (1978, 1979, 1980) showed that the model appeared to be appropriate for exploring the complex interactions of factors that are affecting student persistence or dropout and also for predicting those students who are at risk. Similar conclusions were echoed by Pascarella and Chapman (1983) in their studies of commuter institution students. The Tinto model was also useful to explain the difference of influence of predictive variables to student persistence or dropout by gender (Baumgart and Johnstone, 1977; Bean and Kuh, 1984) and various stages of their undergraduate studies. (Kohen, Nestel and Karmas,1978; Terenzini, Theophilded and Lorange, 1984 and Neuman and Neuman,1989).
Although the body of literature reporting application of the Tinto model in student attrition studies has been growing exponentially, there appeared to be still insufficient evidence to link retention policy and program improvement of the institution with reduction of dropout rates. Notwithstanding the implementation of the attrition model, the question of how to start a student attrition improvement initiative remains to be answered. A necessary first step towards developing and implementing a student retention program is self-assessment of the prevailing climate to identify areas of strength and weakness. In support of the assessment process, Tinto (1987) suggested that an “institutional assessment is a crucial pre-requisite for the establishment of institutional retention policy” (p 138).
Tinto (1992) suggests that forces that influence students’ persistence/dropout during the early stages of an academic career can be quite different from those that influence persistence/dropout during the subsequent years. Research on student dropout has largely concentrated on the freshman year, since first year is presumed to be the critical one in completing an undergraduate program (Iffert, 1958; Marsh, 1966) and attrition rates in the freshman year seemed to be very high compared to the succeeding years (Baumgart and Johnstone, 1977; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1977, 1979, 1980; Bean, 1980; Pascarella and Chapman, 1983).
During the freshman year, a student disassociates his/her links with the past society and is incorporated into a new community with different social culture, values and tradition. The freshman year thus determines the basic orientation to the college life towards the establishment of certain values and habits, while the sophomore and later years are the time of maximum solidarity in the college community, socially and educationally ( Bean and Kuh, 1984).
Empirical studies show that academic and social integration has a significant influence on persistence during the freshman year. A study covering four succeeding years of a group of college students by Terenzini and Wright (1987) reasonably supports the construct validity of the social and academic integration component of the Tinto (1975) model. The study reveals that students' level of academic and social integration in the freshman year are expected to have a positive influence on the level of integration in the sophomore, junior and senior years.
It is evident from the above findings that, given the entry level institutional and goal commitment, it is the level of academic and social integration which may continuously influence commitment during sophomore and succeeding years of study, leading to persistence and dropout. The level of academic and social integration varies during the undergraduate career due to the varying degrees of influence by the measures of integration variables which in turn contribute at a varying degrees to the persistence and dropout.
This study, therefore, focuses on the status of the academic and social integration climate as perceived by the students. An instrument based on the Tinto (1975) model and further studies in this field was developed to conduct the assessment. The findings revealed areas of strength and weaknesses, and enabled to develop and deploy appropriate improvement strategies to be developed and deployed throughout the system.
Methodology

Design and Sample


This study was conducted at the University of Papua New Guinea with a total undergraduate enrolment of approximately 5500 students. The population of this study consisted of 2011 on-campus undergraduate students of the UPNG who enrolled in the second semester of 1997. External students were excluded from this study because they differ from their on-campus counterparts in many ways. Non-traditional students find it difficult to integrate into student life while their sense of commitment for tertiary education is very strong (Bradley and Cleveland, 1992).
A stratified sampling procedure was followed to carry out the survey. The total population was divided into five stratum according to their level of studies. Based on a selected sample, 1004 questionnaires were distributed among the selected students. Further follow-up was conducted to increase the questionnaire return rates. Only 516 useable questionnaires were received since 18 incomplete questionnaires were rejected. This provided 51.39 per cent of the sample population for analysis. Chi-square goodness of fit test statistically justified the fair distribution of sample. The value of the calculated Chi-square is 0.322 with four degrees of freedom was not significant at .05 level of significance.

Instruments and Variables

In order to assess the perceived current and ideal academic and social integration climate a list of five-response Likert items were developed. The basis of the list was the studies which had attempted to operationalise the Tinto model (Pascarella & Tarenzini, 1978, 1979 and 1980; Pascarella and Chapman, 1983; Bean, 1980; Neumann and Neumann, 1989) which was further revised in the academic and social context of the UPNG.


The integration criteria (variables) were grouped in conceptual categories of academic and social integration. Academic integration consisted of two criteria: a) academic staff concern for students development and teaching and b) students’ informal contact with academic staff on academic matters each having 5 items. Social integration consists of three criteria: c) informal social contact with academic staff, d) extra curricular activities and e) peer group interaction having total 14 items. Respondents were asked to what extent they agree or disagree on a continuum of five possible responses for current and ideal situation (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree).
The instrument was validated by social sciences researchers and senior administrators of the UPNG. A pilot test was conducted on the instrument to check for clarity and understandibility. The most important problem was the inability of the student to understand “Ideal Situation” clearly. Based on their suggestions, “Ideal Situation” was replaced by “Expected Situation” which according to them carries the same meaning. The instrument was modified based on the feedback from the students.

Statistical Analysis

The data were analysed using the principal component form of factor analysis as implemented in SPSS, Version 6.1. The “ eigenvalue greater than 1” criterion was employed to determine the number of factors to extract, and the factors were rotated to improve the variable loading, using SPSS’s OBLIMIM form of oblique rotation (Tabachnick and Fidel, 1989). The stability of the factor structure was tested by randomly dividing the data set into two halves and repeating the analysis on each half. The derived factor structures were then compared for similarity. This procedure was repeated five times, and only minor movements of variables between factors was found.


Looking at the “current” and ”ideal” responses, SPSS reported a Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) index of 0.88 and 0.93 respectively as a measure of sampling adequacy and an associated Bartlett chi squared value of 3591.24 and 5515.10 (p<.0001), thereby indicating that the correlation matrix was factorable. The scree test yielded a solution of five factors with eigenvalues ranging from 6.10 to 1.15 and 8.78 to 1.11 for current and ideal scales respectively . This five factor solution accounted for 52.2 per cent (current scale) and 60.4 per cent (ideal scale) of the variance in the factor matrix.
The factor analysis1 shows that on ideal scale all 24 items loading ranged from 0.44 to 0.86 except for one item which had loading of 0.35. Similar studies by Pascarella and Terenzini (1980) excluded all items which had failed to load 0.35 and above. On the ideal scale all 24 items load ranged from 0.49 to 0.81 and were included in the analysis. Thus on both scales all 24 items were included for computation for scale score.
The alpha reliability coefficients for each of the factors that are ranged from 0.70 to 0.75 for the current section of the instrument, with overall reliability of 0.91. On the other hand, the alpha coefficients were slightly higher for the ideal section, ranging from 0.73 to 0.85, with an overall reliability of 0.86. Alpha coefficients at both scales were judged adequate for using the scales in further analysis.
The institutional social and academic integration assessment instrument of this study grouped 10 measures under two academic integration factors and 14 measures under three social integration factors. The factor analysis on empirical data shows that some measures, although they appeared to be either related to academic or social integration dimensions, are clustered together to explain specific integration factors related to both academic and social integration. Factor analysis also suggests that a clear distinction between the measures of academic and social integration dimension was not desirable. 24 items which according to factors analysis clustered against each of the five factors were regrouped for convenience of data analysis.
Results and Discussion
The percentages of respondents on the three scales (disagreed and strongly disagreed; neutral; agreed and strongly agreed) for each of the items measuring the five integration dimensions by year of studies are shown in appendix-1.
It may be observed that students’ perception of the integration climate by year of studies show that the 1st year students had high ratings on the current scale in all dimensions except “students informal contact with faculty”, while the 5th year students had the lowest ratings on the same scale.
On the ideal scale, there were moderate degrees of differences between the students’ perceptions by year of studies in all dimensions except “students peer group interpersonal interactions” which had high degree of differences. This validates the concept of the Tinto model that the effects of various forces that influence the degree of academic and social integration leading to dropout or persistence varies from early years to later year students.
Faculty concern for students’ development and teaching:. Students’ perceptions on both current and ideal scales were low in case of “students attend departmental meeting on academic and student matters.” The low perceptions of students on both current and ideal scales might be due to the ineffectiveness of the current organizational structure. The departmental structure provided opportunities for student representatives to attend departmental meeting to discuss academic and other matters which affect students teaching and learning. As noted earlier, students’ low ratings indicated their disinterest in departmental meetings, which might be attributable to the discussion topics which were dominated by administrative matters rather than matters about students’ academic interests. Given their cultural background, students find it uncomfortable, or in other words they felt shy to raise concerns in a place dominated by academics from other departments who were strangers to them. This confirms the findings of previous studies by Lewis (1974) who emphasized similar reasons for non-participation of students in the departmental meeting. These findings also support the group who at the beginning of the University proposed a school structure and strongly argued that a departmental structure would compartmentalize discipline groups which were thought to restrict interactions between faculty and students across the campus (Meek, 1982).
A comparative analysis between the seven measures of this integration dimension shows that students attached the lowest appreciation for current efforts on the item “faculty willing to spend time outside class”. But 72% to 80.60% of respondents of 1st to 5th year students either agreed or strongly agreed on the ideal scale of the same measure. This indicates students’ perceptions to improve the willingness of the faculty to spend time outside class and to discuss academic related matters.
The 1st and 2nd year students had also the lowest perception on the current scale for “faculty always available for obtaining information” item. The possible explanation of this trend is that the 1st and 2nd years students were yet to overcome the influence of the high school system where teachers were readily available as and when they needed them. On the other hand these students were yet to develop independent study habits in the University which appeared to be different from high schools.
The 5th year students had attached high ratings on the ideal scale for the items “faculty genuinely interested for teaching” and “faculty interested in alleviate academic weakness” which confirm the previous findings by Bean and Kuh (1984) that, compared to their counterparts, senior students were at high level of cognitive development through their engagement with the faculty.

Informal contact with Faculty: Appendix - 1 shows that, on the current scale all groups of students attached the lowest ratings for the item “faculty accessible to solve personal problems”, which was followed by “faculty accessible to discuss career goals” and “faculty accessible to discuss campus and broader issues. The low student perceptions indicates that students had a very low appreciation in respect of their current level of access to the faculty, either to discuss career goals or to discuss campus and broader issues or to solve personal problems. This also confirms the previous reports (Lewis, 1974) that the faculty appeared to be unaware of the students’ difficulties and to have little understanding of students’ background. Consequently faculty found it difficult to meaningfully interact with students and gradually isolated themselves from the student body except for attending classes.

Although, general tendency was dissatisfaction about the current climate of “informal contact with faculty” integration dimension and higher degree of expectations for improvement, degree of satisfaction and future expectations differ between the junior and senior students. The empirical data suggested two trends. First, on the current scale, students’ perception ratings gradually decrease along with the succeeding year of studies (from 1st year to 5th year students). Second, on the ideal scale, students’ perception ratings increase along with the succeeding year of studies (from 1st to 5th year). The low appreciation of the current climate and high expectations for informal contact with faculty by the senior students support the Meek’s (1982) observation that problems arising from cultural background are outweighed by the expectations and attitude which student formulate gradually during their period of studies in the University.



Extra Curricular Activities: As shown in appendix-1, on current scale 1st year students appear to have had the highest mode of perception in all four items while 5th year students had lowest mode of perception for same items. This differences may be explained in such a way that the 1st year students were taken care of by their “wantoks” ( people who came from same clan, sub-district or district) and regional groups. As a result, they might have been involved in extra curricular activities with their regional groups. Moreover, their involvement in extra curricular activities might be more than their immediate past experience in the high school. 5th year students who had been gradually moved away from the regional groups towards professional groups to meet intellectual needs found that the facilities and opportunities available were not adequate to satisfy their diverse needs.

It is evident from the students perceived ratings that they expressed less appreciation for their participation in public lectures and seminars, while they expressed high expectation for the same item. According to a report (Hills, 1997), students participation had been very low in the lecture series “UPNG Em I Go We” (where does UPNG go from here) and visiting scholars lectures. The lack of interest may be attributable to either low publicity or lack of students’ interest in those topics. But there appeared to be an opposite trend between students interest to participate more in lectures and seminars and their disinterest to participate in the 1997 lecture series. Further study may be required to explore the underlying reasons for the contradictory attitudes.


All groups of students except 5th year students attached high ratings on both current and ideal scales for “student bodies and groups promote friendship.” The differences between 5th year and all other groups may be attributable to the failure of the current student bodies and groups to meet intellectual and professional needs. Senior students were interested to join groups and bodies to involve them in intellectual and professional activities rather than promoting friendship which would attract junior students.

Peer interpersonal interaction: Appendix-1 shows that the perception of the 1st and 2nd year students on current scale appeared to be either higher than or similar to the 3rd, 4th and 5th year students in all three measures of peer interpersonal relationship dimension. This indicates that the 1st and 2nd year students were more appreciative of personal support that they were receiving from the senior students of their own tribes and own regions to solve personal problem and for personal and intellectual growth.

The perception of senior students on the current scale was higher for intellectual growth than personal growth and to solve personal problems. This is evidenced by the fact that the students in succeeding years were gradually becoming disinterested for interpersonal relationship for caring and sharing only but interested for intellectual interaction with individuals or groups in similar professions or subject areas.


On the ideal scale, the perception of all groups of students appeared to be high for “interpersonal relationship for intellectual growth”. From 81.50% to 92.90% of respondents of 1st to 5th year students either agreed or strongly agreed on the ideal scale for “interpersonal relationship for intellectual growth”. This common high expectation supports the comments of a previous report (Noland, 1976) that, due to lack of intellectual activities, UPNG was seen as a degree factory” to produce graduates for localizing positions in the labour market. Students high expectations for intellectual activity appeared to endorse the current academic reforms which has suggested a curriculum to bring balance between intellectual growth and skill development for University students (Amankwah, 1977).

Peer group interactions: The student perception (appendix-1) shows that all groups of students attached very low ratings on both current and ideal scales for “alcohol consumption helpful for socialization”. This indicates the students’ negative attitude towards the alcohol consumption and confirms the appropriateness of the current restrictions on alcohol consumption in the halls of residence as well as in the campus imposed by the University administration.

Student perception shows that all groups of students expressed high degree of appreciation about their socialization with peer groups. Only 1st and 3rd year students expressed further improvement towards their satisfaction in socialization with peer groups. Student perceptions also show that all groups of students were not consistent in expressing their opinion regarding the success of the regional groups for socialization. Student perception on the ideal scale indicates a moderate degree of students’ approval towards the role of regional group for socialization.


Conclusion

The essential purpose of this study has been to assess the differences between the current perceptions and future expectations between student groups by year of studies with regard to the academic and social integration improvement efforts. The results suggest that on the current ratings, perceptions towards interaction could be classified as low for the dimension of “faculty concern for students development and teaching” representing academic integration, moderate for the dimension of “extra curricular activities” and “peer interpersonal interactions” representing social integration, while the dimension “informal contact with faculty” which represents both social and academic integration could be classified as low.


The level of perceptions on the ideal scale indicated that all student groups by year of studies were generally in agreement with all five dimensions representing academic and social integration. It appears that all students groups, regardless of year of studies had to some extent similar perceptions as to what the ideal climate should be. On the ideal scale, students’ perceptions ranged between agreed and strongly agreed, which indicated high expectations for improvement of integration efforts for the UPNG.
Although junior students were relatively more appreciative of the current situation than the senior students, overall the perceptions of these groups of students were low. The trend of increase of low appreciation along with succeeding years of studies indicates that problems arising out of cultural background were gradually outweighed by the development of expectations and attitudes during the period of studies in the University (Meek, 1982). Moreover, freshman students with limited experience of the University appeared to be not in a position to assess the real climate, compared to the senior students. This implies that special attention should be given to the integration of the junior students.
Of the five dimensions, students current appreciation was lowest for the dimension “informal contact with faculty” which was followed by the item of “faculty concern for students development and teaching”, while students expectations were high for these dimensions.
The findings of this study suggest that future efforts to improve the social and academic integration process for both first year and later years students should attach priority to “informal contact with faculty”, “faculty concern for students’ development and teaching” and “extra curricular activities”. Policy measures should be designed to increase the commitment of the faculty to take more interest in teaching and academic work by adopting alternative teaching methods and ensuring their availability for consultations outside class. Compulsory training programs for the faculty should be conducted to increase their understanding about the students’ socio-cultural backgrounds and to develop counselling skills. Mentoring systems by forming tutorial groups need to be reinforced.
Students’ low perceptions on the item, “students attend departmental meeting on academic issues and student matters”, revealed that current organisation structure should be changed to provide for a more effective formal forum to air student concerns about academic issues and interests.
In the case of the “peer group interactions” dimension, all groups expressed disagreement regarding the consumption of alcohol for socialisation. The contribution of regional and clan (wantok) based groups as a sub-culture will continue to play a positive role for first year students’ integration in the academic and social system. But students should also be encouraged to promote the establishment of professional and discipline based groups to meet the demands for intellectual and professional growth.
In order to promote intellectual debate and discussion, public lectures and seminars should be organised regularly both at central and faculty (discipline) levels. Special measures should be undertaken to facilitate the integration process of the 1st year students by emphasizing orientation programs, independent study skills, and interpersonal relationships.

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1 Factor analysis table and rotated factor matrix may be obtained on request



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