National Survey of Student Engagement reveals undergraduate experience

National Survey of Student Engagement reveals undergraduate experience

Recently released results of the 2008 National Survey of Student Engagement reveal a snapshot of the U.S. undergraduate student experience as well as a picture of undergraduate life at St. Thomas.

This annual survey, supported by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "documents dimensions of quality in undergraduate education and provides information and assistance to colleges, universities and other organizations to improve student learning."

This year's survey is based on information from nearly 380,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors (including 1,288 UST students) at nearly 800 U.S. four-year colleges and universities.

St. Thomas first participated the 2005 NSSE; that survey included responses by 237,000 freshmen and seniors at 529 institutions.

NSSE provides data in areas considered benchmarks of the entire student experience: academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences and the campus environment.

The survey also gives comparative standards by which institutions can measure their effectiveness. In the 2005 survey, UST was able to measure its results compared to those of eight urban, Catholic universities regarded as peer institutions. This year's survey results show selected data in three comparison groups: 34 other Catholic colleges and universities, 172 institutions within St. Thomas' Carnegie classification ("Doctoral/Research Universities"), and all 2008 NSSE participants.

Here’s a snapshot of what the 2008 NSSE revealed about the St. Thomas undergraduate experience:

  • St. Thomas offers strong academic challenges for freshmen and seniors alike: 84 percent of freshmen students felt that UST places a substantial emphasis on academics, and more than half frequently work harder than they thought they could to meet faculty expectations. More than 40 percent said they spend more than 15 hours a week on homework. The overwhelming majority of freshmen – 87 percent – said their courses emphasized analyzing ideas, experiences or theories; and 69 percent of seniors report having written at least one paper or report of 20 pages or more.
  • UST students report evidence of active learning, too: by their senior year, 62 percent had participated in some form of practicum, internship, field experience, co-op or clinical assignment. More than half of first-year students reported frequent discussions of readings or ideas outside of class. At least half work with peers on assignments outside of class. A full quarter of seniors frequently assist their fellow students by teaching or tutoring them.
  • A high level of student-faculty interaction is evident at St. Thomas. More than half of freshmen say faculty are available, helpful and sympathetic. By their senior year, 23 percent report having done research with a faculty member, and 88 percent of seniors said they discussed career plans with faculty at least "occasionally."
  • On another benchmark of student engagement – enriching educational experiences – St. Thomas students report abundant opportunities. Half of freshmen have completed foreign language courses (this percentage was more than twice as high as the institutions in UST comparison groups) and over a third spent more than five hours a week participating in co-curricular activities. By their senior year, nearly three-quarters have completed foreign language coursework (a full third higher than UST's closest comparison group) and nearly half have studied abroad (more than three times higher than any of UST's comparison groups). Further, 79 percent of UST seniors said they had participated in community service or volunteer work.
  • The survey also showed evidence of a supportive campus environment: Over half of first-year students report their peers as friendly and supportive. Eighty percent of seniors said they would choose St. Thomas again, and 90 percent of freshmen report a favorable image of St. Thomas. Over a third of freshmen respondents said they found administrators and staff to be helpful, considerate and flexible. Some 82 percent said they felt St. Thomas has a substantial commitment to their academic success.

NSSE indicates areas where St. Thomas can do better, too. Only a quarter of freshmen report making a class presentation "very often" or "often," compared to 41 percent at Catholic colleges and universities. And only 42 percent of first-year students and 45 percent of seniors report frequent serious conversations with students of other races or ethnicities – a number 10 percent lower than in other comparison groups.

The survey also revealed other key findings nationally:

  • Seniors who entered as transfers lagged behind their peers on several measures of engagement: They talked less frequently with faculty about their plans, were less likely than their peers to work with their classmates on assignments outside of class, and fewer participated in co-curricular activities. On the other hand, they more frequently prepared multiple drafts of assignments.
  • Nearly a quarter of first-year students and one in five seniors reported that they frequently came to class without completing readings or assignments.
  • First-year students wrote, on average, 92 pages, and seniors, 146, during the academic year. Seniors majoring in social sciences and arts and humanities wrote considerably more than those studying physical and biological sciences.
  • When courses provided extensive, intellectually challenging writing activities, students engaged in more "deep learning" activities such as analysis, synthesis and integration of ideas from various sources, and they grappled more with course ideas both in and out of the classroom. These students also reported greater personal, social, practical and academic learning and development.

The NSSE 2008 Report, "Promoting Engagement for All Students: The Imperative to Look Within," can be downloaded from the NSSE Web site or it can be ordered for $20 from the National Survey of Student Engagement, Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, 1900 E. 10 th St., Suite 419, Bloomington, IN 47406-7512.

To learn more about St. Thomas' NSSE results, see .