This study employed the focus group interview as a method of data collection. Focus group interviews have been found effective in the supplying of information about how people act and feel about a certain topic. Focus group interviews are a qualitative method of research and are very effective in answering questions regarding how people consider an idea, event or experience.
Five focus group studies were conducted across University of California, Irvine Campus, on the 29th June, 2015 between 1:05pm and 1:32pm. UCI was well suited to the study of off-campus living on student educational engagements because the proximity to the school varies a great deal. Also, UCI is diverse in terms of student compositions and as a result it provided the perfect setting to carry out this particular study. A small seminar room within the campus facilities was identified as the perfect place to conduct the interviews as it offered a circle seating arrangement and also a comfortable environment. The room was brightly lit and had huge windows that ensured maximum circulation of air. Additionally, the room was quiet and free noise and other movement distractions.
I took part in the focused group interview as a participant (participant two). My role was to give answers to the questions that were posed to me by the moderator. I was to give an honest opinion on how I thought living off-campus has affected my cost of living, academic engagement and social engagement. In terms of cost of living I had to state how living off campus had affected my utility costs, parking and food costs among others. With regard to engagement, I had to respond to questions related to my involvement in school activities, class room group discussions and socialization.
The focused group comprised of six participants. The participants, together with the moderator, were drawn from our class. The six participants drawn comprised of three males and three females to ensure a gender balance. In as much as all the participants came from different and diverse ethnic backgrounds, they had homogenous qualities in relation to their living arrangements. All the participants of the study lived off-campus and hence needed to commute to school. All the six participants in the study lived off-campus; a distance of less than 15 minutes from their living arrangements to school. Even though all the participants in the research study were categorized as living off-campus, they each had different living arrangements. One of the participants lived at home with the parents and the other lived in rental apartment. One of the participants lived with friends and hence was able to split his rent while the others lived by themselves. Each of the six participants was assigned a number between one and six. Assigning different numbers to the participants ensured that the moderator did not refer to the participants by their names which could have affected the data collection process.
The topic “how residential proximity affects student life” was assigned to us in class. I decided to focus on how specifically living off-campus affected a student’s cost of living, social engagement and academic engagement. To conduct this study, I opted for a focus group discussion. Six students, living off-campus, were selected to participate in the study and assigned different numbers from 1 to 5. The sixth member of the study was the moderator of the focused group interview. The selected participants were equal in terms of gender representation. This was so as to avoid bias and to ensure a general representation of the students living off-campus. All the participants exchanged their contact information to ensure ease of communication before, during and even after the focused group interviews.
Prior to conducting the focused group interview, a central location conducive for the data collection was identified. We identified a small seminar room within the dining hall that provided a perfect environment to conduct the focus group interviews. Prior arrangements were made with the facility’s manager to ensure the hall’s availability on the day of the interviews. This was done through a written request that was duly approved. Moreover, a moderator had to be identified and a tape recorder acquired in advance before the interviews. Amongst ourselves (the participants in the study) we chose the moderator; a person that all of us viewed was impartial, a good communicator and of high integrity. One of the participants of the study happened to possess a tape recorder and offered to lend it for the purposes of the study. The tape recorder was to be used to record the questions and the responses of the participants.
The focused group interviews took place on June 29, 2015 between 1:05pm and 1:32pm. This was deemed as the appropriate time to conduct the interviews given that each participant in the study was free. The focused group interview took exactly 27 minutes. The time stamp was a 5 minute intervals from one question to the other. This means that it took five minutes for answering of the questions by the participants in the study. All the participants of the study were required to meet at small seminar room five minutes before the commencement of the focused group interview. The moderator began the focused group interviews by welcoming all the participants of the study and explaining to them what the interview was all about and what their roles in the interview would be. He further explained that a tape recorder would be used to record the interviews and thereafter transcribing would be carried out to facilitate analysis of the data. All the participants agreed to be recorded.
After exchanging pleasantries, the moderator threw a question related to proximity and student life to the participants and each of them was to give a response based on how the topic in the question was related to his or her student life. The moderator started the discussion with asking the participants the general question on how residential proximity has affected their lives at UCI. The moderator explored further the topic asking the different factors influencing a choice to live off-campus rather than on-campus and the effects on the living costs. Further, the moderator posed the question of friendship and how it was affected by living off campus. The moderator explored the topic from how we socialize, time we socialize and the places we socialize. Next, the moderator posed the question on engagement in different clubs within the campus. This question also sought to find out the dedication to the different classroom activities and whether there time constraints with regard to participating from the activities. Lastly, the moderator explored the topic of transportation and distance from the campus, and how it affected our student engagement in student life. After exactly 27 minutes, the moderator concluded the focused group interview by thanking the participants for taking part. The participants dispersed and headed to class.
Data collected via the focused group interviews was transcribed and checked for clarity and accuracy. Transcribing is making the speech recorded in the recording device is readable. This involved listening vigilantly to the participants in the study, careful note taking and a sensitive and accurate interpretation of the data recorded. Thereafter, there was editing of the grammatical errors found in the speech of the participants. This was carefully done to ensure that the meanings were not lost.
This present study sought to answer the question of how living off-campus affected a student’s academic achievement, social engagement and financial well-being. From the focused group interview, the following results were revealed:
Cost of Living
Cost of living was one of the themes that emerged from the focus group discussions. It was evident from the discussions that living off-campus had financial implications for the participants in the study. This was the first theme that emerged from the discussions. Contrary to the popular opinion that living off campus meant spending more, a number of participants indicated that it was financially cheaper to live off campus than living on-campus. When the moderator asked how the participants felt their residential proximity had affected their student life at UCI, Participant 4 indicated that it was financially cheaper for him to live off-campus than living on campus. Participant 4 stated “For my situation I live a mile and a half away from campus and hence financially it’s cheaper than living like directly on campus.” The participant further stated that the further one lived from campus, the more money one is likely to “save on rent and everything.” Participant further elaborated by stating that he lived with four other people and hence was able to split his rent and other living expenses. Participant 5 shared similar sentiments with Participant 4 by indicating that it was financially cheaper due to the fact that he shared a room. For Participant 3, living off-campus was relatively cheaper since she lived with the parents. She stated “And financially, because I live at home with my parents, it’s cheaper relatively cheaper as opposed to live on campus”.
Nevertheless, the situation was not the same for everyone as the other participants indicated it was expensive living off-campus. For Participant 6, the situation was much different as he felt like s/he was spending more living off-campus than living on-campus simply because he was living alone. Participant 6 stated “Cause for me I’m living like probably a mile away too but cause seems that living by myself so the rent is not actually you know less than living on campus.” Participant 2 also indicated that she spent more money due to the fact that she lived by herself. When asked by the moderator to give a reason why she felt she spent more money off-campus than she could be on-campus, she responded by stating “Oh because I live by myself. so it is definitely like spend more money, yeah.”
There were also concerns related to the expensive costs of parking the students who lived off-campus had to part with. This was a concern that was raised by Participant 5. He stated that “a parking pass cause that can get expensive too.” A majority of the participants also agreed that they were spending more on parking. There was a resounding “Yes, Yes” answer from multiple participants when asked on whether they felt they were spending more on parking in campus. In terms of parking passes, tickets and gas among other factors, multiple participants felt like they were spending more than the students who lived on-campus. It was only Participant 3 that indicated that she spent less because she had factored in the parking costs before deciding to live off-campus.
With regard to the overall perception of the participants on the costs of living off-campus as compared to living on-campus, most of the participants were in agreement that it was quite expensive living off-campus. Participant 6 felt like the people who lived off-campus spend more than their counterparts living on-campus. The participant pointed out the utility costs that the students living off-campus had to pay as compared to the students living on campus who do not incur them. The participant pointed out that “all the utility is paid for by the school.” This concern prompted the moderator to ask the participants on the other aspects apart from rent that made living off-campus expensive. Participant 6 indicated that utilities were the sole reason why living off-campus could be more expensive. However, Participant 5 indicated that he did not incur high costs for utilities due to the fact that they split them with their roommates. Participant 5 stated “I split my utilities with my roommate so I’m really not paying that much in utilities.”
The food costs also proved to be a factor contributing to higher financial costs incurred by the off-campus living students. Participant three indicated that it depended on the situation as sometimes she had to eat out rather than go back to her apartment to eat. Participant 5 shared similar sentiments by indicating that it depended on the situation. Participant 5 stated “I think people that well it depends on your situation because like for you guys you live alone so that’s pretty expensive but I think like for me, I share a room and I think I’m paying a less amount than someone that shares a room on campus”. He held the view that for people who lived alone; their food costs were pretty expensive as compared to those that shared a room.
Friendships and Student Engagement
Friendship and student engagement was another prominent topic that emerged from the focus group discussions. A majority of the participants in the focused group interview indicated that they had fewer friends than their counterparts living on-campus. Participants 6 and 3 indicated that they had no friends on campus. Participant 4, on the hand, indicated that it depended on the situation and what she was involved with in campus. She indicated that is the way of how she has her friends. Additionally, participant 4 indicated that she a mix of friends as some of her friends lived off-campus, even further than where she lived. This prompted the moderator to ask the question of how they felt distance affected their willingness to get involved in the school activities. Participant 5 and 6 indicated that they felt distance affected their willingness to get involved. Participant 4 stated that she did not feel that distance affected her willingness get involved since she had lived both on campus and off-campus. She stated “So I was able to meet friends and stuff just because I was there on campus and I’ve gotten involved and because of that. So now, now that I live at home it’s not too much of an issue just because I get to talk to them and see them when I do meet up with them.” However, she indicated that if she had not lived on campus, her “circle of friends would have been a lot less” than it was at the moment.
With regard to whether the participants were involved in any clubs and organizations within campus, a majority of them indicated that they were not involved. Even though some of them were members of organizations before, they fell out due to the time and distance constraints. Participant 3 indicated that she was in a community service organization but was no longer involved with the club. Participant 6 stated that “I used to be in uh TSA - Taiwanese Student Association.” Participant 6 elaborated further on her answer by indicating that she was not in the club anymore and had only been in the club for only a month. Further, she indicated that she was no longer involved with the club and was not friends with members of the club. Participant 2 indicated that she did not join the clubs Hong Kong Su and TSA, but she is still associated with the club and talks to the members. Participant 2 indicated that one of her friends brings her club activities on her regular basis and hence she can be able to know someone and get involved. For Participant 4, the situation was very different as he was active in clubs and organizations. He stated “I’m active in Liwanag Filipino Catholic Community and so I’ve been active since my freshman year.” Participant 4 had not only been a member of the organization for four years but also indicated that he had a lot of social ties with the organization. With regard to engagement in group activities, all participants indicated that they had to put in extra effort to be involved. This was because of the distance involved and the time constraints.
In pursuing the topic of friendship and student engagement further, the moderator asked the participants whether they felt they could make good friends during lectures. This question was met with mixed responses from the participants. For Participant 5, he indicated that he worked full time and hence this prevented him from getting involved much in classroom activities. However, he indicated that he has “met people in class before.” For Participant 3, she indicated that it depended on the situation as she sometimes takes classes that her friends do not take. This limited her abilities to make friends during lectures. Also, she indicated that she likes studying all by herself to avoid the constant distractions. Further, she indicated that during group projects, she will talk to the other students but will not hang out with them after such projects.
On their overall thoughts about making friends in class, most of the participants indicated that the friendships made in class usually do not last. Participant 4 stated “I feel like um the people I meet in class are just for class like if it’s a group project or anything. Then after that quarter I never talk to them or see them again. Additionally, he indicated that were it not for his involvement in the Catholic community, he would not have a solid friendship in campus. Picking on Participant 4’s response, the moderator asked whether friendships made in class ended with the class. All participants agreed except for Participant 2 who indicated that class presented her with the only chance to make friends. She stated “I do not live in campus so I only have chance to make friends in class so maybe just yeah.”
Academic performance is another prominent theme in relation to residential proximity and student life .The moderator sought to find out whether the participants felt their residential proximity affected their grades, especially study habits. Participant 5 stated that studying had become harder given that he now lives further from the campus. As compared to when he lived close to campus, he now has to travel longer to the library to study when distracted at home. Participant 3, on the other hand, indicated that she tends to be more focused when she drives to school and also allocates more time for studying. She stated “I feel like I focus more and like I tend to allocate more time.” Participant 6 also shared a similar opinion by stating “I like to just study at home.” Participant 2 indicated she did not like studying in the library because of the quietness that would make her feel nervous. Participant 4 stated that he felt studying habits on campus were worse than off-campus given the many distractions from hall mates and friends among others. He indicated that when he lived on campus, he was frequently distracted but now that he is off campus, his study habits have gotten better.
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