Kathleen R. Catanese
Many colleges and universities require that a formal needs assessment or market survey research study be conducted prior to approving proposed courses, certificates, degree programs, or other curriculum. The purpose of a needs assessment (also referred to within as “market research”) is to determine the feasibility of newly proposed curriculum. Specifically, a curriculum needs assessment should determine: 1) whether potential students are indeed interested in enrolling in the proposed curriculum and 2) whether potential students completing such curriculum would be viewed as more marketable by professionals in the field compared to students who do not complete this curriculum.
The present needs assessment was conducted to determine the market feasibility of a proposed certificate program in Peace and Conflict Management at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Cleveland, Ohio. The creation of this needs assessment began by first determining the market for students earning a certificate in Peace and Conflict Management. Next, separate surveys were created to assess student interest in enrolling in the curriculum and whether community market professionals would view these students as marketable. After administering the surveys to community professionals and current Tri-C students, the data were analyzed and reported to the administrative committee responsible for approving the proposed curriculum. The checklist below outlines each of the steps in assessing the need for a proposed certificate in Peace and Conflict Management.
Seek Administrative Support and/or Approval
Prior to beginning the vast undertaking of creating a market survey, it is important to consult with the college or university administration for guidance and approval. There are many beginning questions that could be addressed early on that can prevent problems and facilitate the process of conducting a needs assessment. Thinking it through early on can save a lot of time and create a smooth and efficient research study. Each and every institution is unique and has its own set of policies, procedures, and standards for conducting market research. Depending on the answers to the following questions, the needs assessment may take on different forms or procedures.
Are there available guidelines from the institution for conducting a needs assessment? What are the expectations of the administration for specific aspects of the survey, e.g., how many surveys are necessary to be representative, how should the survey be conducted, to whom should the results be reported and in what format (e.g., written, oral, etc)?
Are there individuals who must approve the materials prior to conducting the needs assessment? Specifically, is there a specific administrator who must approve or oversee this process? Must this market research be formally approved by the Institutional Review Board that oversees research conducted by members of the institution?
Institutional Precedents or Prototypes
Are there other programs that have conducted needs assessments prior to their approval? If so, would these programs be willing to share their materials to aid in the planning process?
Are there administrative offices that can be of assistance in the various stages of the market survey such as identifying a market (e.g., Marketing Office or Community Relations), collecting and/or entering the data (e.g., administrative offices, work-study students, interns) and analyzing the data (e.g., Institutional Planning Office or statistical tutors)?
Who will direct and coordinate the research? Are there faculty and/or staff that could be enlisted to help who possess specific expertise in survey creation, data collection, data analysis, and data reporting? Who will collect the data, enter the data, analyze/interpret the data, and summarize the data in written format? Are there faculty who would be willing to assist by simply collecting data in their classes? Will these team members volunteer their services or will they receive compensation (see below)?
How will the survey materials be paid for and produced? Will survey participants be compensated or volunteer? Will the team members receive compensation or release time for their efforts? How will funds be procured for the creation and administration of the survey materials?
Could the market research project be used as a hands-on learning experience for students engaged in business, marketing, statistics, behavioral sciences or research courses? For example, participating faculty may integrate the market research project into their courses to teach students how to develop and administer survey research as well as and analyze data. Advanced students could earn independent study credit while learning about the process of conducting research.
Every institution is different, and in the case of the needs assessment conducted at Tri-C, this particular trajectory toward completing the needs assessment was based on the fact that needs assessments were a relatively new expectation of the curriculum office. Indeed, an informal survey of other peace and conflict management programs yielded very little precedent for conducting this type of market survey at other institutions. Only two other programs at Tri-C had conducted prior needs assessments, and one of these programs was kind enough to share materials and information to assist in the process. There were few explicit expectations for approving the survey, conducting the survey, and reporting the results of the survey. Faculty, staff, and administration volunteered their time and efforts to assist in the process of conducting the formal needs assessment described hereafter.
Determine the Market
The market for any proposed curriculum in peace and conflict management has at least two segments. The first segment involves the market for students who will actually enroll in the curriculum and develop the peace and conflict management knowledge and skills gained through the curriculum. The second segment involves the market for the knowledge and skills gained through completing the certificate. In other words, the second segment involves the professional community that will then employ students completing the certificate.
At Tri-C, an Advisory Committee for the Proposed Certificate in Peace and Conflict Management was formed, and the members met to brainstorm potential markets for this curriculum. Members of this committee were faculty, staff, administrators, and interns representing a diversity of disciplines. The first market segment was easily identifiable: any Tri-C student could be a potential student in the certificate program. Indeed, the student market survey was ultimately completed by students in primarily introductory courses with a wide range of intended majors. Future market surveys may be directed specifically toward students intending to major in disciplines that are specifically aligned with peace and conflict management.
The second market segment was much broader than the first. The committee brainstormed a list of potential professional careers and disciplines that could benefit from possessing a skill set in peace and conflict management. This involved brainstorming the names of individual contacts, professional organizations, businesses, social service agencies, public or government organizations, and community nonprofit organizations. This process was aided by a job outlook assessment conducted by two undergraduate interns from the Kent State University Center for Applied Conflict Management who worked with the advisory committee as part of their internship with Tri-C’s Global Issues Resource Center.
Once the market segments are identified, consider how participants will be recruited and who will comprise the participant sample. Having a clear idea of how exactly participants will be selected and recruited should aid in the next step of designing the assessment. The assessment content, length, and mode of delivery may depend on the available participant pool.
Create the Assessment
The next step in conducting the market survey is to create the actual assessment to determine the market for the proposed curriculum among students and community professionals. The advisory committee met to brainstorm key variables to be assessed on the student survey and the community professional survey. The following lists the key variables identified by the committee to determine the market feasibility of this curriculum. The assessments were constructed by a volunteer faculty member with expertise in survey construction and research methodology. The actual assessments can be viewed in the attached Appendix 1 (Community Professional Survey) and Appendix 2 (Student Survey).
Student Market Survey: Key Variables
- Demographics such as age, sex, ethnicity, highest level of educational attainment, enrollment status, and intended major or future career path
- Level of conflict present in students’ daily life, family life, intimate relationships, work environment, and school environment
- Students’ perception of the importance of possessing skills to understand and resolve conflicts
- Students’ interest in taking classes for credit and/or a certificate program that would teach about conflicts and the skills and strategies for resolving them
- Students’ perception that a certificate in peace and conflict management would increase their chance of employment
Community Professional Market Survey: Key Variables
- Demographics such as age, sex, ethnicity, highest level of educational attainment, county of residence
- Occupational status such as employee or employer and position title
- Information about the organization of employment such as the services the organization provides and what positions in the organization deal most with conflict as part of the job responsibilities
- Information about the organization’s professional development opportunities such as whether employees are reimbursed for professional development, how professional development is conducted, and the resources the organization utilizes for employee trainings and professional development
- The degree of importance for conflict management skills in the respondent’s field or profession including the skills of: treating conflict as neutral, ability to identify functional vs. dysfunctional conflict, reappraising conflict through emotional awareness, identifying alternatives to agreement, active listening, ability to take different perspectives, understanding of nonverbal communication, sensitivity to cultural differences in communication (verbal and nonverbal), positively and constructively asserting oneself in interaction, using effective questioning to work through conflict, non-defensive communication, de-escalating verbal aggression, negotiating competitively, achieving consensus, strategic planning, and effective decision making
- The importance of possessing the conflict management skill set for a potential employee in the respondent’s field
- Respondents’ interest in professional development offered by Tri-C in enhancing the conflict management skills of his- or herself or his or her employees
- Respondents’ interest in a variety of potential opportunities for professional development in conflict management skills (e.g., for credit courses, noncredit courses)
Each proposed program in peace and conflict management, social justice, or peace studies will be different. It is the responsibility of the advisory committee proposing such curriculum to have a clear idea of the proposed program, its vision, objectives, and outcomes prior to creating the market survey. The particular variables of interest included on the market survey should reflect and align with the particular vision, objectives, and outcomes of the proposed program. At Tri-C, the survey designed for community professionals directly assessed the marketability of the particular skill set to be offered by the proposed certificate program. Future student market surveys should be similar in this regard. Students would benefit greatly from a clear explanation of the meaning of “conflict” and “conflict management” embedded in the survey instructions. Students could be provided with a list of skills or objectives that the proposed program would be teaching so as to make a better judgment of their willingness to enroll in these programs.
Seek Institutional Approval for the Assessments
The needs assessments should be approved by any regulating body at the institution as per the procedures specified by the institution. In the case of the needs assessment conducted at Tri-C, the community professional survey was reviewed by the Vice President for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, approved by the Dean of Academic Affairs, and approved and formally endorsed by the Associate Dean of Social Sciences. The advisory committee was informed that prior market research conducted in the community did not need the approval of the Institutional Review Board. However, because the student survey involved student research participants and involved assessing a potentially sensitive subject such as interpersonal conflict, the student survey was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Surveys needing approval by an IRB should be submitted for approval in advance of collecting the data and according to the particular procedures and policies of the institution’s IRB committee.
Recruitment of Student Participants
Student participants can be recruited in any number of ways, but the exact recruitment procedures will depend on the procedures of the institution. In this case, only students over the age of 18 were legally able to give their informed consent to participate and therefore were eligible to complete the survey. The primary mode of recruiting these students was with the cooperation and assistance of faculty who asked students to complete the surveys during class time. Some faculty offered extra credit, although this was at the discretion of the instructor. It should be noted that if compensation (such as extra credit) is offered, faculty should also offer ineligible students an alternative activity to complete in lieu of the actual survey. Other suggestions for recruiting students may include recruitment through research participant pools offered by behavioral science departments or recruitment in public locations such as student unions, sports events, cafeterias, or lounges. In the case of the research conducted at Tri-C, student research participants were generally recruited in introductory courses and represented a wide array of intended majors and degree programs.
A copy of the email sent to faculty to recruit student participants and instructions for administering the student survey can be viewed in Appendix 3.
Recruitment of Community Professionals
Community professionals were recruited primarily with a convenience sample and using a snowball procedure whereby survey recipients were encouraged to pass on the survey to their friends, colleagues, employees, and associates. Recipients were initially contacted via e-mail from a Tri-C employee with a letter endorsed by the Associate Dean of Social Sciences requesting their participation. Tri-C employees were encouraged by the advisory committee to recruit community professionals particularly in the social services, not-for-profit organizations, business sector, education sector, health careers, and emergency/public safe careers. Survey recipients were recruited in the following ways:
- The advisory committee members and faculty who attended a college-wide colloquium on the certificate program volunteered to send the survey via e-mail to their personal and professional contacts.
- The Global Issues Resource Center sent the survey via e-mail to its e-mail list serve.
- The Office of the President at the Western Campus and the Metro Campus sent the survey via email to the college’s list of key community organizations and affiliations.
- Other suggestions for recruiting community professionals include: sending out mailings obtained from the Better Business Bureau, local World Trade Center, local marketing agencies, and obtaining a convenience sample at local professional conferences or job fairs.
Copies of emails sent to recruit community professionals can be viewed in Appendix 4, and a list of potential organizations from which recruited recipients belonged can be viewed in Appendix 5.
Administer the Assessment and Analyze the Data
Surveys were administered in both paper-and-pencil format and via the Internet. The student survey was administered only in paper-pencil format in the classroom at the discretion of the supervising instructor. Instructions for administering the surveys adhered to the approved IRB protocol and can be viewed in Appendix 3. Completed surveys were returned to the principal investigator, kept in a locked filing cabinet, and only handled by the principal investigator and other research assistants responsible for entering and analyzing the data. The community professional survey was administered via Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com). A research analyst in the Department of Institutional Research created the survey in Survey Monkey, and provided the advisory committee with a link to view the compiled survey results online. Collecting the data online was an excellent way to cost-effectively disseminate the survey and view immediate results. It is recommended that future surveys institute an online data collection system such as Survey Monkey or other online forms.
The data were entered by a team of interns and the project director. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics in Microsoft Excel and the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Data analysis should be conducted by an individual familiar with statistics and research methodology.
Report the Assessment Results
Following data analysis, the research results must be reported in a clear, concise, and easily digested fashion. Before writing the research report, identify the intended audience and the format in which results will be reported (e.g., oral, written, visual). Administrators and curriculum committees are overburdened with work and have little time to spend devising their own interpretations of complicated graphs, charts, statistics, and language.
In the case of the need assessment for the proposed certificate program in Peace and Conflict Management conducted at Tri-C, the administration requested a short executive summary with clear language, graphs, and charts to be presented along with the formal written proposal. Past needs assessments at Tri-C were presented as an oral presentation with visual representations of the data. The executive summary should be a focused and concise explanation of the key findings discovered from the needs assessment. The executive summary should include:
- One-to-two pages including:
- A short abstract (5-7 sentences) of what was done and what was found
- Two-to-three findings that are clearly worded and visibly identifiable
- A concise written explanation of the key statistical findings accompanied by clear visual displays of the data
- A short (one paragraph) conclusion reiterating the key findings and making a recommendation for future action
- Additional pages with follow-up appendices of additional information such as how participants were recruited and demographic data for the samples
A copy of the executive summary prepared for the Tri-C proposal can be viewed in Appendix 6.
In summary, assessing the need for a certificate program in Peace and Conflict Management is a process that involves a great deal of planning, resources, and institutional commitment. The process begins by seeking administrative support and approval to move forward with the market research. Once the target markets have been identified, the survey assessments must be created and approved by the institution. Participants are then recruited, the survey is administered, and the data are analyzed. The results of the market research can then be reported to the administration and curriculum committees in support of the new curriculum. The most crucial element to facilitating successful market research throughout this entire process is to engage a team of players (including faculty, staff, administrators, students, and community professionals). By working together, this diverse team can accurately assess the need for curriculum that will better prepare students for their future careers.
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