To be effective in this aim of improving student satisfaction and achievement, it is important to have an understanding of the key factors which are thought to be associated with these outcomes.

Whether a consumer is satisfied or dissatisfied with a service is related to a comparison of the expectations of what the clients feel the service provide should offer to their perceptions of what the service provider actually offers (Aldridge, Rowley, 1998). In the case of education if the student perceives that the educational experiences provided meet their expectations they will be satisfied. If the benefits of the service that are perceived by the student do not meet their expectations then they will be dissatisfied. In our aim to improve student satisfaction, it would seem important to consider the expectations of our students.

In recent years students (and parents) expectations of what they can expect from their studies has increased markedly (James, 2001; Tricker, 2008). Contemporary student expectations can be considered in three major categories – quality instruction, interaction and communication and the learning environment.

Expectations relating to the quality of instruction include an expectation that course content is aligned with real-world employment prospects (Tricker, 2008), that instructors are qualified at an appropriate level (Tricker, 2008), that adequate learning supports exist (Tricker, 2008), and that information provided to the students is accurate and clear. In particular students expect quality information relating to learning goals, courses, assessment procedures, complaint procedures, and transparency of assessment and grading practices (Ramsden, 1992 as cited in James, 2001; McInnis, 2001 as cited in James, 2001; Tricker, 2008).

With respect to interaction and communication, students expect honest, respectful two-way communication between them and the educational provider which includes consultation about the learning experience and demonstrates concern for their progress (Tricker, 2008; Ramsden, 1992 as cited in James, 2001).

The expectations of students with respect to the learning environment concern flexibility and choice in the range of subjects available, delivery modes and time spent on-campus, as well as access to cutting edge technology (McInnis, 2001 as cited in James, 2001; Tricker, 2008).

In a survey of academic staff in Australian universities the staff surveyed stated that they found that students expected to play a more passive role in their learning than in previous years (James & McInnis 2001 as cited in James, 2001).

Many of these expectations are aligned with best practice principles of higher education (Caplan & Graham, 2008), however the last finding is concerning. It’s also worth considering that while the above expectations are the average, individual students expectations of higher education are bound to vary.

There is some evidence to suggest that students typically have a very low level of understanding of what study in a particular area entails (James, Baldwin, McInnis 1999) as cited in James, 2001). This ignorance of subject material and course requirements is likely to lead to a gap between the student’s expectations and experience, and is a likely cause of dissatisfaction.

Given the fact that an educational experience is unlikely to exactly match the expectations of a new student, and that this is likely to lead to dissatisfaction in some areas, it has been suggested that educational institutions should take an active approach to managing and moulding student expectations (Tricker, 2008). There is evidence to suggest that an ongoing two-way dialogue between the provider and the consumer of the educational experience can act to shape student expectations to become more realistic (James, 2001).

While it is worthwhile knowing what the overall expectations of the student body are with respect to their educational experience, this set of expectations does not necessarily describe expectations for all student groups. The expectations of legal students are likely to be different from the expectations of students of massage therapy or mechanical engineering. Likewise the expectations of student cohorts are likely to change from year to year. For this reason, it may be advisable to measure the expectations of students from year to year, and across disciplines. The Template and the Quality Evaluation Student Template are instruments that have been found to measure expectations with a high level of accuracy, and the information provided from the use of these instruments has been found to be extremely useful in the management of student expectations and experience (Tricker, 2008).

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