As part of our modern culture, people are inundated with questions regarding their personal opinions and experiences. College students, in particular, often experience the brunt of these inquiries. During their college careers, students may fill out countless surveys regarding their personal interests, classes, professors, and even some for their educational institution.
What if the information collected during these surveys isn’t always reliable? Should college students be surveyed in the same manner as non-students?
As a Michigan Tech MBA student, Tao Guo asked these questions while working as a research assistant. This inquiry led to a research project and a refereed paper presentation at the 2010 Marketing Management Association Fall Educators’ Conference in Indianapolis.
The paper, “The Effect of Rating Scales on Systematic Differences Between Students and Nonstudents in Survey Research,” was written with help from Junhong Min, assistant professor of marketing, and the late Bob Mark, professor of practice.
“Tao came to me with a question about using surveys in consumer research that kept leading to more questions. His enthusiasm and dedication to this project led to the honor of presenting at the conference. We’re very pleased with his work,” notes Min.
Guo’s initial research found two divergent views exist about the usefulness of college students as subjects. One stream of research questions the use of student samples, while the other shows no difference between student samples and nonstudent samples. Guo tried to fill this gap by examining when the differences between student samples and nonstudent samples occur.
Tackling a common practice found in consumer research studies that survey college students, Guo took a closer look at the use of scales. When examining data from student assessment surveys, he found that either a five-point scale or a seven-point scale was typically used. Both of these scales are employed to measure how strongly the subject agrees with a survey statement. His results empirically illustrate how the five-point scale is more effective at capturing the differences between student and nonstudent samples. In addition, Guo discovered that behavior-related questions (e.g., frequency, the number of purchases) are more sensitive to differences between students and nonstudents than attitude questions (e.g., willingness to purchase, perceived importance).
“The research suggests to the practitioners that they should interpret their results with caution when student samples are involved,” says Guo.
Guo researched the subject for five months. The opportunity to present his paper was a notable achievement for a student, since most presenters at the conference were professional business educators from universities across the nation.
“The professor hosting my section was very excited about my findings and gave me a lot of suggestions for further research,” he said. “I learned a lot by listening to others’ presentations and established several new connections with MBA students and faculty from other universities.”
Guo is from Zhoukou, a small town in Henan Province in central China. He attended Northeastern University in Shenyang, China, where he majored in English and minored in finance. Before coming to the US, he worked for four years at Northeastern University, including a position as deputy director of the Engineer Training Center.
“I came to realize the value of higher education and overseas experience after I interacted with several very successful scholars and corporate executives,” says Guo. “That’s why I made up my mind to switch my career and pursue an MBA degree in America.”
Support from faculty was important to Guo. “I have really appreciated the broad range and depth of interests of the faculty in the School of Business and Economics. Other than professors Min and Mark, I also worked on an independent study with Assistant Professor Maria Schutte. Every time you feel like you have a question or you want to learn something, you can always find the right professor. And they are all willing to help.”
Because of Guo’s research and his successful student career at Tech, he has been accepted into the PhD program in Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech University. “I am very grateful to Michigan Tech for the opportunity to do research as an MBA student and for my educational experience in general. It was an overall great learning experience and will be very beneficial to me in my future endeavors.”
This article was originally published in Impact, the Michigan Tech School of Business and Economics magazine.