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Needs Assessment: Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT

Conducted by: Ryan Hogan, Claire Mulgrew, Brianna Stemmler

Graduate Program in Occupational Therapy, Sacred Heart University

April, 2016

Executive Summary
Introduction: A needs assessment was conducted for undergraduate and graduate students at

Sacred Heart University (SHU) who are currently attending or plan on applying to and attending

graduate school at SHU in the future to measure how prepared they feel in regards to entering

graduate school. Specifically, we examined students currently enrolled or planning to attend a

program in the College of Health Professions or College of Nursing program. The University

offers 30 undergraduate majors and upon undergraduate commencement, students have the

option to apply to graduate school. Methods: The primary method of data collection was a

mixed methods survey that was made available online to students. During data collection, an

online coding system was utilized to create pie-charts displaying the results of the survey.

Results: The results showed that a total of 56 students participated in the survey, 27 graduate

students and 29 undergraduate students. 96% (48 out of 50) of participants indicated that they

anticipated graduate school to be more stressful than undergraduate but feel that they would find

it helpful it more information regarding the transition into graduate school was provided to them.

Discussion: The results have concluded that although most seniors in undergraduate programs

believe they are ready to move to the next step in their education, it is still a challenging process.

Although most students feel that they have a basic understanding of what is expected of them in

graduate school, there are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered. Identification of the

missing gaps in knowledge in relation to this transition is important for preparing students for the

graduate school. Recommendations: The newly formed SHU Graduate Student Affairs Office

has developed an online guide for graduate students. Although it is a good resource, students

might not be aware of it or know how to locate it. Encouraging all graduate programs to promote

the use of the webpage and including the link in their websites would be helpful. A tangible

source of information, such as a printed brochure, might be beneficial to students. It could be

stored in the graduate admissions offices and handed out to students at their graduate school

orientations to provide supplemental information. Information should also be readily available on

the graduate schools Facebook page.


SHU is a private, Catholic university in Fairfield, Connecticut that provides

undergraduate and graduate education to students. According to Sacred Heart University (n.d.),

the mission of the University is to assist in the development of people knowledgeable of self,

rooted in faith, educated in mind, compassionate in heart, responsive to social and civic

obligations, and able to respond to an ever-changing nurturing each ones spiritual and

moral growth, and deepening in them a sense of social responsibility (SHU Undergraduate

Catalog, 2015-2016). Currently, more than 8,000 students are enrolled in full-time and part-time

undergraduate and graduate programs and over 250 full time professors.

Population Description

Our target population was undergraduate students who plan to apply to graduate school in

the College of Health Professions and College of Nursing programs at SHU and current graduate

students. During the 2015-2016 school year, there are 4,435 full-time undergraduate students,

770 part-time undergraduate students, and 3,030 graduate students made up of 68% females and

32% males. Additionally, 16% of the students are minorities.

Environment Description

SHUs main campus is located at 5151 Park Ave in Fairfield, Connecticut. The majority

of health science, health professions, and nursing classes for undergraduates and graduate

students are located at the Cambridge and Oakview campuses in Trumbull, CT. New facilities are

being built within the next year to offer additional locations where College of Health Professions
and College of Nursing undergraduate and graduate students will take classes. The Sacred Heart

University Center for Healthcare Education in Bridgeport, CT is a large facility that will offer

latest technology and equipment to students for students in the College of Health Professions and

College of Nursing. A Master of Physician Assistant Studies program will be offered within the

next year at facilities in Stamford, Connecticut.

Review of secondary sources related to needs of general and specific population

The focus of the literature review began with evaluating and understanding the needs of

the undergraduate and graduate students, and how they differ from one another. Graduate

students, make up a diverse population and have needs that are unique from the typical

undergraduate student population. One method that has been found to be successful to assess the

needs of this population is to distribute surveys to directly to the students (Coulter, Goin, &

Gerard, 2004). A survey is an efficient way to assess and identify areas that could improve the

experience for students (Coulter et al., 2004). It can also help to understand the differences in

perceptions and experiences of graduate school versus undergraduate students (Nesheim,

Guentzel, Gansemer-Topf, Ross, & Turrentine, 2006). It also helps to detect what prevents

students from enrolling in certain programs and determine methods to address the barriers. Some

of the barriers to enrollment include personal finances, employment schedules, and course

availability (Coulter et al., 2004, p. 16). Other areas of concern for the graduate school

population include: experience with statistics and research methods, high Graduate Record Exam

(GRE) scores, high grade point averages (GPAs), strong personal statements, relative work

experience, strong interpersonal skills, and reputable letters of recommendation (Coulter, 2004).

One of the primary reasons for conducting this needs assessment was to evaluate how

aware students are about the resources at the University that are available to them. According to
the literature it was found that most students were not aware of what was available to them,

making this an area where programming can increase awareness for this population (Nesheim et

al., 2006). A study by Coulter et al. (2004) also found that often at universities, there is a lack of

communication about the resources that are available for graduate students. Providing a survey to

the current graduate students at Sacred Heart University can help to assess where communication

might need to be increased in order for graduate students to become more aware of the resources

available to them.

Key Questions

The key questions used to survey the undergraduate and graduate students in the College

of Health Professions and College of Nursing programs were designed to help evaluate their

needs and experiences. Students were asked 30 questions which covered a range of topics,

including: current academic status, their experience related to the application process, awareness

of the financial demands of graduate school, previous experiences with research during

undergraduate studies, knowledge of available services provided by SHU, prior clinical

experiences, and perceptions of graduate school prior to and while attending it. The ultimate goal

was to assess how prepared and confident undergraduate students at SHU as they enter the

College of Health Professions and College of Nursing graduate programs at SHU.

Current Programming in place

There are various services and programs available to students at SHU to facilitate their

transition into graduate school. The Office of Graduate Student Affairs offers virtual information

regarding housing assistance, wellness and health forms, transportation services, parking

information, academic calendar, technical support, career services, activities, food services,
graduate catalog and information, and international student services. This information can be

found on

Methods used for data collection from primary sources

The method used to conduct this needs assessment was a survey that was available online

to undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Health Professions and College of

Nursing. The questions previously discussed in the key questions section were part of a mixed

methods survey. The survey included Likert-type and open ended questions with the goal of

obtaining quantitative and qualitative data. The survey was distributed through e-mails from

professors in the College of Health Professions and College of Nursing programs and through

undergraduate and graduate Facebook pages.

Data Analysis & Results

The data was organized and quantified through and presented as pie

charts and percentages. Qualitative data was collected through open ended questions but was

ultimately limited because many participants left those areas blank.

The results showed that a total of 56 students participated in the survey, 27 graduate

students and 29 undergraduate students. Initially there were 56 responses to the survey, however

many questions were left unanswered ranging of a response total for each question of 39 to 56.

Though not every question was answered, information about the needs of graduate students at

SHU can still be examined. 96% (48 out of 50) of participants indicated that they anticipated

graduate school to be more stressful than undergraduate. This statistic makes it evident that

graduate students needs have to be assessed in order to understand how SHUs services can be

better utilized and implemented in this population to help reduce the amount of stress they face.
With 47.4 % of responses indicating that students applied externally to SHUs graduate schools,

the ease of applying for this group of students is important. 52.6% (10 of 19) of students who

applied externally found the process difficult, indicating that this might be a place to look at how

SHUs services can make this process easier. Another area to address is the number of students

who do not know what services are offered by Career Services & Placement Center. Of 51

responses, only 18 of them having knowledge their services.

Many of the participants, 73.58%, who took the survey felt that having an information

session about interview, etiquette, and professional skills would be beneficial. Knowing that this

could be of interest to students can help to assess if it would be something SHU can add to its

graduate student programming. In general the results of this survey show that the participants

feel that there are some additional services that could be provided to them to help ease their

stress during transition to graduate school.


The purpose of this this needs assessment was to examine undergraduate students who

anticipating enrolling in SHU College of the Health Professions and College of Nursing

Graduate programs in order to identify students areas of concern or areas where services could

be augmented. that need improvement. We surveyed both undergraduate and graduate students so

we could compare what undergraduates are concerned about versus what graduates are

concerned about and what the graduate experience is actually like. Uniquely, undergraduates

planning to apply to graduate programs in the College of Health Professions and obtain

undergraduate bachelors in different subject areas, but for example, some have a degree in

history while others have it in exercise science, while those applying to graduate level nursing

programs already have nursing degrees. The diverse undergraduate programs and institutions that
feed into these graduate level programs demonstrates the difficulty of providing information that

meets the needs of those familiar with SHU, but also those for whom this is a new environment,

in addition to the transitional needs of both groups to graduate level of education with unique


The strengths of this needs assessment was that the students who took the survey are

seeking helpful information as they transition to graduate school. Prior to applying to

undergraduate programs, students receive an abundance of information regarding the application

process however, graduate school admissions is different because less information is given and

becoming informed is more of an independent process. As previously stated, the results of this

survey were helpful to help us understand how students in undergraduate feel about their process

of applying to undergraduate versus how graduate students felt applying to graduate school.

Comparing what students believe they need compared to what they actually need is vital to

making the transformation from undergraduate to graduate programs. The weaknesses of this

survey is that some of the students may have randomly clicked answers to get it over with while

others take it more seriously, but this is a weakness of survey use. Due to the relatively low

number of participants many students did not have access to the survey or they ignored the email

and Facebook postings about it. Lastly, some of the students who did receive it might not

anticipate going to graduate school so they did not partake take it because it did not apply to


This assessment suggests that even though most seniors in undergraduate programs

believe that they are ready to move to the next step in the learning process, it is still challenging.

Even as students feel that have a basic understanding of what is expected, there are still a lot of

unanswered questions. Identification of the missing information related to this transition is

important to preparing students for the next level. It is also important to make sure that all

students are aware of what services are offered and what they can do. This is also the time that

many students will start to gain independence from their parents, moving into the adult world.

Filling out applications, finding jobs, and living on their own some of the important roles many

students will take on along with their academics. Whether students are coming to SHU from

other schools and programs or have graduated from SHU, implementing a plan to provide

information in the areas identified in this assessment and decrease the stress associated with this

transition is important.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Based on the results of our assessment, the priority need for SHU graduate students is to

raise awareness about services that are available to undergraduate and graduate students to

prepare them for graduate school. Students describe graduate school as a challenging experience

that can be facilitated through supplemental information and additional information sessions.

Sacred Heart University Office of Graduate Student Affairs recognized the lack of information

provided to students and they created a website to gather all the information that students can

benefit from. Although it is a great resource, students might not be aware of it or know how to

locate it. We hypothesize that a tangible source of information, such as a printed brochure, might

be beneficial to students. It could be stored in the graduate admissions offices and handed out to

students at their graduate school orientations to provide supplemental information. Also a

message encouraging students to forward any comments, concerns, and/or questions to Kathy

Dilks, the Director of Graduate Admissions, should be included on the brochure.

Although the purpose of this needs assessment was to examine how prepared students

feel to enter graduate school and to assess their awareness about available services, other areas
were noted. Students who applied to graduate school using an external CAS program indicated

it was a difficult process to complete. In the future SHU graduate admissions might want to

consider the difficulty that some external students face when applying to graduate programs and

find a way to facilitate that process. In conclusion we believe that if students had a better

understanding of the services that are available to them, additional stress outside of their

schoolwork can be minimized. We recommend that SHU Office of Graduate Admissions

promotes the Graduate of Student Affairs webpage in the future so that undergraduate and

graduate students have a better understanding and knowledge of what is available to them.

Coulter, F. W., Gerard, J. M., & Goin, R. P. (2004). Assessing graduate students' needs: The role

of graduate student organizations. Educational Research Quarterly, 28(1), 15.

Davis, S. F., Hansen, D. J., Huss, M. T., Patry, M., & Randall, B. A. (2002). Factors influencing

self-rated preparedness for graduate school: A survey of graduate students. Teaching of

Psychology, 29(4), 275-281.

GansemerTopf, A. M., Guentzel, M. J., Nesheim, B. E., Ross, L. E., & Turrentine, C. G.

(2006). If you want to know, ask: Assessing the needs and experiences of graduate

students. New Directions for Student Services,2006(115), 5-17.

Graduate Student Affairs | Sacred Heart University Connecticut. (n.d.). Retrieved April 03, 2016,


Soriano, F. I. (2013). Conducting needs assessments: A multidisciplinary approach. Los

Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Sacred Heart University. (n.d.). Mission Statement. Retrieved from


The University. Sacred Heart University Connecticut. (2015-2016). Retrieved April 03, 2016,


Appendix A

1. Are you currently a graduate or undergraduate student?

2. What undergraduate or graduate program are you currently in?

3. If you are a graduate student, did you obtain a bachelors degree from Sacred Heart

University? If not, where did you obtain your degree from?

4. Did you apply to Sacred Heart graduate school internally or externally (CAS service)?

5. If you applied internally, how was your experience applying to graduate school?

6. If you applied externally, how was your experience applying to graduate school?

7. If you applied externally, how was the process of obtaining information about graduate

programs at Sacred Heart?

8. Are you/were you aware of the costs of applying to graduate school (applications, transcripts,

etc.) ?

9. While attending graduate programs at Sacred Heart University, housing is not provided. Do

you feel capable of finding roommates, a place to live, and having the ability to pay for

necessities? If not, who would you contact for help?

10. Do you feel that you were/are adequately prepared to enter a graduate school program?

11. Do you know what services the Career Development & Placement Center at Sacred Heart

University provides?

12. Do you feel prepared to read and/or write a paper written in APA style (or other writing style

required by your program)?

13. Have you ever completed a research project or proposal?

14. As an undergraduate student, do you believe you can benefit from building connections with

professors, who may be able to expose you to the field you are interested in?
15. How comfortable do you feel working with different programs on your computer (Microsoft

Office, Neehr Perfect, Google Doc/Drive, SPSS, etc.)?

16. Have you ever taken a standardized test (SAT, GRE, etc.)? If so, please state which one you

have taken.

17. If you did not have to submit GRE scores to a potential graduate program, would that

influence your decision to apply?

18. Prior to applying to graduate school, did you have any training and/or classes in developing a

resume/CV, interview skills, professional etiquette or appropriate interview dress?

19. Do you believe an information session would be beneficial for building interview, etiquette,

and professional skills?

20. Prior to attending or applying to graduate school, did you complete any clinical

observation(s)? If so, please identify how many.

21. Do you feel that there should be a required number of clinical observation hours prior to

applying/attending a graduate program at Sacred Heart University?

22. Do you feel that anyone applying/attending to a science- based graduate program should be

required to take science courses prior to admission (Anatomy & Physiology, Biology, Physics,


23. Do you think the new position of Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs is beneficial?

24. Do you find/believe graduate school education is more stressful than undergraduate


25. Do/did you anticipate graduate school to be more stressful than undergraduate?

26. Do you have questions about your future career or graduate school that have not been

answered yet?
27. Currently, the physical therapy program at Sacred Heart University, does not accept grades

for classes that were taken twice during undergraduate education. If you failed the first time, take

that class again, and earn a higher grade, only the first grade will be counted towards your

prerequisite GPA. Do you feel that this new policy is fair? If yes, please explain why?

28. Do you feel that other graduate programs should follow the same policy regarding retaking


29. During graduate school orientation, do you feel there should be an optional session for

students to attend that orients them to main campus and the available services? If yes, what

specifically would you like to know more about during this optional session?

30. Are there any recommendations you have in regards to the graduate school application

process, or any services related to graduate school education at Sacred Heart University? If so,

please explain.