Turning the Question Around: Do Colleges Fail to Meet Students’ Expectations?

James Edward Rosenbaum, Kelly Iwanaga Becker*, Kennan A. Cepa, Claudia E. Zapata-Gietl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Research often focuses on how students fail to meet college expectations, but it rarely asks how colleges fail to meet students’ expectations. This study examines students’ expectations of college and their institutional confidence—their level of certainty that college will meet their expectations. Drawing on 65 pilot interviews and a survey of 757 students in eight community colleges and two private occupational colleges, we find that students have three expectations about college. However, students do not express confidence that college will meet these expectations. Students expect college to provide: (1) dependable progress to credentials, (2) relevant courses, and (3) job contacts. Factor analyses confirm that ten survey items load onto the three components of institutional confidence expressed in the interviews. Using structural equation modeling, we investigate how institutional confidence varies by college program and its relationship to students’ overall college evaluations. Within 2-year colleges, we find that students in two occupational programs express more confidence that college provides relevant courses and employer contacts than students in BA transfer programs. Further, we find that students’ institutional confidence that college provides relevant courses mediates much of the relationship between college program and students’ overall college evaluation. We speculate about ways college programs may improve students’ institutional confidence and their evaluation of college.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-543
Number of pages25
JournalResearch in Higher Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Community colleges
  • For-profit higher education
  • Institutional confidence
  • Structure
  • Student outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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