This qualitative study’s primary purpose was to examine general and academic factors and living conditions and their influence on student retention at Westcliff University (W.U.). The study’s objective was to investigate current international students holding F-1 visas and their experience and concerns surrounding W.U’s expertise. One-on-one interviews were conducted to derive data from three randomly chosen F-1 students currently enrolled in the DBA program at W.U. to investigate the overall sentiments surrounding W.U’s conditions, resources, and support. The research assumes the hypothetical situation that results based on interviews with school administrators before this study, lead the conclusion that W.U. is interested in improving student retention and graduation rates.
It is noteworthy that this study was conducted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that has interfered with the on-campus experience at W.U., and interviews conducted may be skewed as all students are enrolled in online platforms.
Table of contents
Westcliff University (W.U.) was founded in 1993 in Orange County, California. W.U.’s campus is located in Irvine, about one hour from Los Angeles. Besides offering on-site classes at the campus, W.U. utilizes an online platform that facilities international students who do not hold the F-1 Visa. The globally recognized university comprises students from over 87 countries and holds three highly reputable accreditations.
Based on school administrators’ feedback, W.U. has seen the need to improve student retention and graduation rates. College retention is an essential topic for students and colleges, affecting academic and financial goals. Westcliff’s retention and graduation rate are higher than average, with 81% and 83%, respectively, in 2018. The country average for the rates of retention and graduation is 61.7% and 60% for the same period. Westcliff has seen a 22% growth rate in enrollment for the comprehensive university, and an 82% retention rate has been published for the DBA program.
Statement of Problem – Westcliff University
Today’s volatile economy and competitive landscape affect the economics of higher education. As more resources are invested in attracting “well-qualified students,” the administration must focus on ways to retain their students. High-cost resources such as infrastructure investment, advertising, tuition grants or discounts, and scouting out perfect candidates are considered “market signals.” It is explained that in today’s business, some of these investments are considered “socially wasteful” and “excessive.” Therefore, it is no surprise that too much investment can be harmful to a university if not aligned with the students’ expectations and needs. Therefore, by conducting interviews and compiling data based on the feedback and recommendations of F-1 students in W.U., the administration will improve their experience and pinpoint areas that are important to invest in based on students’ concerns.
Based on interviews with Westcliff University’s administration, there is a need for increased retention and graduation rates, leading to enrollment management. The problem can be overcome by understanding students’ needs and having the W.U. interpret the study’s outcome to propose strategies that will help support F-1 students. For over a decade, international student enrollment in the U.S. has been continuously increasing and contributes $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018. These students account for 5.5% of the higher education population in the U.S., and these numbers must be maintained as it can help build new ideas not only for the international markets but for the education system as a whole. With the current effects of COVID-19, there is much negative sentiment around the future of international students’ enrollment. However, these students themselves help build the reputation of Universities and increase the university’s competitive edge. Therefore, by pursuing this qualitative study, W.U. can understand how current F-1 students perceive the school’s support and resources, helping with future enrollment. The problem occurs as every student stops attending W.U., they must be replaced, and this needs to be correctly understood.
Methodology – Westcliff University
This qualitative study focuses on exploratory research that is often used as a guide to refine research and can help to find ideas that lead to “potential business opportunities.” Exploratory research also allows researchers to figure out any potential relationships between variables they observe. As the name suggests, researchers are still exploring ideas and making the data to discover any possible cause and effect relationships. In other words, researchers could conduct research and data collection without developing any hypotheses, assumptions, and sometimes biases. We collected the data for this exploratory research from one on one interviews with three students (case study); all enrolled in their second year of the DBA program at Westcliff University. We chose direct interview as it allowed for the most in-depth responses needed for this type of study and the most common type of data gathering technique, especially by consultants in the organization. Direct interviews are usually utilized to complement focus groups to get more in-depth responses. Based on the scenario, the administration already formed a theory from the preliminary meetings. Interviews allow for collecting “what else” is missing from the data and allow for the respondents’ opinionated answers.
A semi-structured approach was adopted to allow for more personalized feedback and lacked a sense of “generalizability.” As the questions were open-ended, the coding methodology was utilized to minimize the massive amounts of material into an accessible data point for analysis. Projective research techniques are indirect means of questions and allow for beliefs and feelings to be portrayed to respondents. These techniques were also considered as it allowed for a deeper understanding of the interviewee’s personality and opinions. It should be noted that responses based on this technique are not considered at “face value” and need to be interpreted based on “underlying meanings” and behavior. Furthermore, using semi-structured interviews would allow researchers to form and phrase different questions from different aspects and perspectives to gather more meaningful and truthful responses.
Participants – WestCliff University
For this study, we chose to interview three international students. All three are initially from India and are in the second year of their DBA program. Each interviewee was asked a number of questions and based on the feedback and responses; further questions were asked that varied by the respondent. All three students were male and in their early 30s. Among the three participants, one has lived on campus for over a year. The other two had been to the on-campus housing but did not reside there. Two of the students pay full tuition, while one student receives a $1,000 scholarship. All students previously attended U.S: universities for their master’s program and were familiar with the U.S. higher education system.
Data Collection Procedure and Interview Questions
Each interview was conducted via a call and ranged from 35 minutes to 1 hour. Each interview followed a series of questions that were used as a guide to the conversation. The following were the main 20 questions utilized in each interview:
- What is your name, age, and background?
- Have you ever lived on Westcliff University’s campus? If not, where do you live?
- How did you hear about W.U.?
- Was Westcliff your first choice for your study? What other schools did you consider?
- Where did you previously study?
- What aspects of Westcliff made you choose this university.
- What were your most important expectations of the university?
- Were your expectations met?
- Will you recommend the university to other students pursuing similar studies?
- What recommendations will you like to see for a) academics, b) housing, c) tuition fees and payment?
- Based on your knowledge of on-campus housing, do you feel the facilities are satisfactory and reflective of the price?
- Do you receive financial aid or scholarships?
- Do you believe the money invested is reflective of the services you receive at the university?
- How has your experience with students’ services and academic advising been?
- How have your experiences with on-campus classes versus the now mandatory online campus been?
- Do you believe the grading criteria and experience by Professors are fair and satisfactory?
- Do you feel that the level of education received is satisfactory?
- How do you find the enrollment process and the criteria for acceptance?
- Do you believe that the on-campus resources are satisfactory?
- Are there any other recommendations or feedback you will like to provide in terms of your Westcliff experience?
It is noteworthy that the above questions were not all asked in the same order and were randomized based on each respondent’s responses. As mentioned, this interview was conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Coronavirus affects higher education in the United States, the questions were mostly based on on-campus experience. Future expectations are based on the expectations that the F-1 students will not be expected to leave the U.S., even though classes are currently online. At the end of each interview, one question was to explain their opinion on how the university handled the Coronavirus, its effects on on-campus classes, and the duration of their DBA program.
Transparent and Fair Practice and Research
Before each interview, we told each participant about the informed consent, the most critical factors of the research study, and their participation. The summary of our informed consent is as follows.
Introduction: We are a team of third-year students at Westcliff University. We are researching the graduation rates and student retention of F-1 students at W.U. We are going to provide you with the information and invite you to be part of the research. This consent form may have words or phrases that are hard to understand. Before you make a decision to participate in the study, feel free to ask us anytime, and we will ensure to take the time to explain to you.
The purpose of our study: A majority of W.U. students are international students in the U.S. on an F-1 visa. Therefore, W.U. must provide the best support to its international students. This study aims at helping W.U. achieve that goal.
Research Intervention: We will ask for your participation in a case study (one-on-one interview) that will take about half an hour to complete.
Participation Selection: We invite you to participate in this research because we feel that your experience as an international student at Westcliff University. can contribute a lot to our understanding of the school’s support to F-1 students.
Voluntary Participation: Your involvement in this study is completely voluntary. You decide whether to participate or not.
Procedures: We ask you to help us better understand the general and academic aspects of F-1 students at W.U. We will ask you all questions on the questionnaire. The items will be entirely about your experience at W.U. We can also answer questions about the study that you may have. We will not require you to share your personal beliefs or any information you do not feel comfortable sharing. The interview will take place online through Zoom. No one else but the people who participate in the interview will be present. The whole interview will be handwritten. Your name and other personal information are confidential.
Duration: The interview will last for about thirty to forty-five minutes, depending on the length of your answers.
Benefits: You will not obtain any direct benefits. However, your participation is likely to help W.U. better assist F-1 students, which can benefit you indirectly.
Confidentiality: We will not share your information and answers with anyone outside of the research team.
Who to contact: You can ask us any questions now or later by sending an email at [email protected].
Outcome – Westcliff University
Grounded theory is the most suitable technique for analyzing interview transcripts, building on an idea, and identifying, developing, and relating concepts built around a view. The sentiments and ratings based on the responses of the respondents were used to categorize the data. As such, the interviews were semi-structured, and through this information was gathered on individual members of the group of selected W.U. students. Based on the questions mentioned above, the following results were concluded.
The first category looked at on-campus housing. Although only one participant lived on campus, all participants have been exposed to housing and have been to the housing facilities on numerous occasions. All three participants explained that the accommodation was satisfactory; however, two out of the three said they did not feel comfortable with the safety of the Santa Ana area in which the housing facilities were located. All students had an idea of the housing cost and thought it was a fair reflection of the living conditions. Based on the results, there were concerns about the area’s safety; however, service by the administration and actual housing requirements were satisfactory.
The second category that showed importance was satisfaction with the on-campus learning facility. There was 100% satisfied with the location of the on-campus site. However, two students explained that they were not happy with the current facilities, such as internet access and access to other aids that can help in their studies. The physical buildings were all described as a work in progress, and each student mentioned their satisfaction with the improvements done in 2019.
When it comes to looking at whether students will recommend W.U., all three said they would because of the location and ease of admission. However, two participants explained that they felt that Westcliff University does not correctly describe the DBA program‘s expectations, and they felt that students get enrolled very easily. During the course, they think that students are not serious about their studies. All three mentioned their main reason for coming to W.U. is because of the work CPT program. The CPT program enables international students to work full-time while maintaining legal status in the U.S. W.U. optimizes this program by scheduling its classes in the evenings. Thus, students can go to work during the day and attend at night. Besides, W.U. does not limit the number of hours a student can work or how long they can work using the CPT status. As a result, many F-1 students have chosen Westcliff to advance their education. However, they believe that certain Professors are also not flexible and do not correctly convey what they need to further their studies. This is a significant drawback for recommending the school.
Each student explained their satisfaction with specific professors, and this helped their academic experience. They explained that a major drawback is within each professor’s grading criteria as it differs and sometimes makes their courses unclear. Overall all students were satisfied with the academics within the university. The most interesting was that students favored the ease of admittance; nonetheless, all explained concern that this ease of admission hinders the quality of their experience as some students cannot keep up with the work or don’t care.
Other miscellaneous recommendations included, better online platform as now with COVID, each student had to use the platform and was not fully satisfied. Textbooks proved to be an issue as students found them expensive, and many professors did not use them, so instead, they don’t see the need to buy the book unless a copy is sent. One major issue that each student repeated was again in terms of the online submission platform that continuously crashes during peak times. One student was very interested in having improved management styles with the school itself. He explained that because of the differences in expectations by every professor, it is hard to follow the university’s templates and expectations, making difficulties in his studies.
Overall every student was satisfied with the tuition and access to scholarship. They all felt it was reflective of the quality of the studies. One of the program’s biggest compliments was the flexibility with most Professors; nevertheless, it also leads to a drawback as other Professors are not uniformed, which hinders the university’s expectations. The admissions process needs to be a little more in-depth and more informative before accepting students. An important takeaway from each student was that Westcliff University does not look at any GRE scores or similar testing scores and does not ask for much in their application, which allows for a high acceptance rate. However, each student felt that this high acceptance rate opened up to students who are not serious about the DBA course, bringing down their work ethic and morality in the long run.