During the spring 2014 semester, Planning & Assessment, on behalf of the Division of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, engaged in a new initiative to assess the weekend behaviors of NIU’s students.
This topic was chosen by a group of individuals from within the division to better inform program and service delivery, and to examine what they believed was a pervading belief that NIU was a “suitcase campus.”
The Weekend Behavior Survey gathered data about how often students expected to stay in the NIU/DeKalb area on the weekend versus how often they actually stayed during their first semester on campus.
The survey also gathered information about why they chose to stay versus leave and examined if there were any significant relationships between staying/leaving behavior and their involvement and sense of belonging on campus.
In alignment with NIU’s traditional role as a regional institution, a majority of respondents (61.6 percent) indicated that NIU’s proximity to their permanent residence was “moderately important” or “very important” in their choice of institution. Most of the respondents (62.8 percent) went on to indicate that, even before they came to campus, they intended to leave on the weekend at least “once a month” or “two to three times a month.”
This intention aligns with students’ reported behaviors from the fall 2013 semester with 54.4 percent reporting that they actually leave the NIU/DeKalb area “once a month” or “two to three times a month.” While the actual percentage is slightly lower than the intended percentage, respondents’ behaviors still skewed toward regularly leaving campus on the weekend.
When asked what they would do if they did not have to take into account extraneous factors such as time, money, family obligations or transportation, 70 percent identified that they were satisfied with how often they leave versus stay. One of the more surprising findings was that very few (8.8 percent) wished they stayed more often; however, a larger percentage (21.2 percent) wished they left more often than they currently do.
Regardless of whether students wished they stayed or left NIU/DeKalb more often on the weekend, there was a general consensus among the respondents that their reasons tended to be very relational based. Building or maintaining relationships with friends, family, or significant others was very important to all respondents.
For those who do stay in the campus/DeKalb area over the weekend, they report spending most of their time (“more than six hours per weekend”) with friends on-campus and/or studying. Nevertheless, 32.2 percent of respondents reported that they never attend official NIU events/activities on-campus during the weekend.
Respondents were classified into one of three “leaver group” categories:
- Frequent Leavers, those who left every weekend, or two to three times per month;
- Moderate Leavers, those who left once a month; and
- Infrequent Leavers, those who left once every two months, or once a semester or less.
Respondents were asked to rate how well they thought they fit into the NIU. It was the researchers’ anticipation that the infrequent leavers would feel a much greater sense of belonging and the frequent leavers would feel a greater sense of disconnect from campus. Fortunately for the students, this inverse relationship was not found when analyzing the data.
Regardless of leaver group, a majority of respondents (53.2 percent) wanted to participate more in campus activities. A clear finding from many of the comments was that students, regardless of how often they leave, are looking for more ways to meet others, even in their second semester on campus.
As a result of these findings and others, a variety of recommendations were made.
Highlights of these recommendations include:
- Outreach to frequent leavers should emphasize the connections they can make during the week regardless of their leaving on the weekend.
- Current weekend programming efforts need to be audited to determine if they are meeting the needs of students. An audit should look for weekend involvement opportunities that contribute to the unique NIU experience but also allow for relationship building opportunities.
- A similar study of upperclassmen should be conducted to determine if students’ leaving behavior changes over the course of their college career as they become more invested in the college community.