Factors Influencing Indiana Residents' Level of Interest in Engaging with Purdue University

2019-05-15T12:59:16Z (GMT) by Ashley E Rice
The land-grant university system was founded in the 19th century as a public means to help improve people’s everyday lives. A century and a half later, the challenges that the public faces to live a quality life are constantly changing, creating a need for the land-grant system to respond and adapt to continue to fulfill its mission. While the literature contains a wealth of conceptual papers addressing the role and mission of land-grant universities, relatively few papers could be found that reported empirical data or proposed and tested metrics for public engagement constructs. The current study sought to address this void in the literature through the investigation of factors influencing Indiana residents’ level of interest in engaging with Purdue University. Mail survey methods were used in which up to three contacts were made with adult members of 4,500 Indiana households identified through address-based sampling. Stratified random sampling was employed to ensure adequate rural household participation for other project purposes. Usable responses were received from 1,003 households representing 87 Indiana counties for a total response rate of 26%. <br><div><br> </div><div> A theoretical perspective was developed from Public Sphere Theory and the social science writings of Jurgen Habermas and Alexis de Tocqueville. Descriptive findings revealed some to moderate concerns about community and social issues such as affordable health care, violent crime, pollution and prescription drug abuse. Moderate levels of anomie, or perceived social disconnectedness, were also reported by respondents. Several items tapped respondents’ past levels of interaction with and current perceptions of Purdue University. Nearly a fifth of respondents reported interacting with Purdue University by having visited a website for news or information, followed by interacting with a Purdue University Extension professional. Regarding perceptions of Purdue University, the results of this study revealed relative consensus among respondents that Purdue University makes a positive contribution to the state of Indiana through its educational, research and outreach programs. For a majority of the perceptual items regarding Purdue University, more than one-third of the respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement, suggesting some areas in which the university might improve its reputational standing with Indiana residents in the future. Nearly one-quarter to about half of the respondents indicated interest in topical areas addressed by Purdue Extension programs as well as an interest in engaging with the university. Respondents reported the highest levels of interest in free Extension programs in their local area, followed by the topics of science and technology, health and well-being, and gardening.</div><div><br> </div><div> A predictive model of respondent interest in engaging with Purdue University was developed and tested using binary logistic regression procedures. The model was shown to be of modest utility in accounting for variance in respondent interest in engaging with Purdue University, explaining 12% to 16% of total variance. Past interaction with Purdue University, perceived level of concern for social and community issues, and highest level of education were the strongest predictors in the model.</div><div><br> </div><div> The current research was completed in 2019 as Purdue University celebrated its 150th anniversary. Results and implications of this study provide important insight into current engagement levels, concerns and perceptions of residents within the state of Indiana, whom the university is mandated to serve. One of the study’s primary contributions is the establishment of baseline engagement data on current levels of Indiana residents’ interest in engaging with Purdue University on selected topics. Findings from this study could be of benefit to university administrators, faculty, staff and Extension professionals in assessing and improving future programming and setting strategic priorities. This study also adds to the conceptual and empirical body of literature, which may help inform future public engagement efforts at other land-grant universities. Periodic social science and public opinion research is needed to keep pace with the changing needs and perceptions of Indiana residents. Different data collection modes should be utilized to reach more audience segments and add to the growing knowledge base of public engagement.</div>

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