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Tool gauges how online students identify with their university; Jayhawks score especially high

Monday, June 26, 2017

LAWRENCE — If someone were to tell you they were a Jayhawk, Bulldog, Tiger or Eagle, you’d probably realize they were referring to their school’s mascot and not harboring delusions of being an animal — in some cases, a mythical bird.

But researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a scale to determine what it means to be a Jayhawk or any other school nickname, which can offer insight into the student experience and how students will take part in the alumni experience after graduation.

The “I’m a Jayhawk” scale was developed to evaluate the experiences of students taking online-only graduate classes in KU’s School of Education. The tool has been tested and validated nationally, and researchers found that not only do the students taking the online courses view themselves as Jayhawks just as much as do on-campus students, but they also identify with their school’s mascot more than students taking online-only graduate courses at other universities.

After launching a new set of online graduate education programs, researchers were asked to evaluate their effectiveness. They began by interviewing stakeholders, including administrators, course teachers, budget personnel and others.

“The concern at the university level was ‘We want these students to feel like a Jayhawk just as much as traditional KU students do,” said Bruce Frey, professor of educational psychology and co-author of a study regarding the I’m a Jayhawk scale.

Frey, Aaron Clopton, Christopher Niileksela and Steven Lee — all faculty members in KU’s School of Education — and doctoral students Andrea Garcia and Alan Nong, developed an instrument asking students in both traditional and online KU programs how much they identified with the Jayhawk mascot. Then, they tested a generic version of the instrument with 370 students taking online-only graduate courses at universities across the country. The generic version asked students to think about the nickname or mascot of the school through which they were taking classes.

Respondents were asked to rate on a scale whether they strongly disagreed or strongly agreed when asked whether they think of themselves as the school’s nickname, do not like to be considered as such, consider the nickname’s successes their successes, if it is considered prestigious to be such, if alumni of all schools would be proud to have their children be their school’s nickname and more.

KU’s online students indicated they identified as Jayhawks as much as traditional students and more so than students of other online programs identified with their own school nicknames.

Organizational identity can offer all kinds of insight into campus experience and other connections to a university.

“If you can find out how much students identify with their institutions, even with just the school’s mascot, that variable can represent a surrogate variable for a number of others, such as satisfaction, instructional quality, prestige, alumni activities and others,” Frey said.

The researchers presented their scale and study at the American Evaluation Association national conference and are submitting an article on the findings and scale for publication. They are making the I’m a Jayhawk scale publicly available and say it can offer a great deal of insight into the campus experience. For example, the scale indicates which students currently identify with their mascot and how likely they are to follow the athletic teams and buy school merchandise. It also can indicate how likely students are, and which among them are most likely, to donate to the school as alumni, buy tickets to athletic events, encourage their children and friends to attend the university, stay at the school through graduation, return for more degrees, and more.

The scale could also be expanded to gather more data on exactly why students feel the way they do, which could be used to address countless issues. Frey gave the example of diversity concerns that have become prevalent at universities across the country in recent years. The scale can look for differences across groups of students in terms of whether they feel they are accepted or belong at a university.

It could also have use beyond students, such as surveying faculty to see how strongly they identify with their institution and whether characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or others make a difference.

“We always want all people to feel like they belong here and are welcome at our institutions, and this is one way to get at that,” Frey said. “One thing the I’m a Jayhawk scale shows is not only whether you identify with the school’s sports teams, but whether you’ll stay connected to the university in many other ways.”

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