Campus News

UGA undergraduates give good marks to their overall educational experience in survey

Jere Morehead

UGA students who participated in the 2007 National Survey of Student Engagement have again evaluated their overall educational experience more positively than students from selected peer institutions as well as all students who took part in the survey.

Of UGA freshmen surveyed last spring, 91 percent reported a favorable image of the institution, while 90 percent of seniors surveyed said they would choose the school again if they could start their college career over. Similar responses were obtained in two previous surveys in which UGA participated in 2003 and 2005.

But 2007 survey data also indicated that UGA must continue to focus on the goal of advancing the level of academic challenges in the classroom. Both freshmen and seniors reported spending less time than students in comparison groups studying, writing, preparing for class and synthesizing ideas and information.

“This national survey affords an opportunity to evaluate how effectively we are engaging our students in the classroom and beyond,” said Jere Morehead, vice president for instruction. “Participating in NSSE over a period of time will eventually give us data that can be used in measuring the effect of changes we are in the process of making in the general education curriculum and other areas as a result of the Report of the Task Force on General Education and Student Learning.”

More than 600 four-year colleges and universities, both public and private from throughout the country, participated in the 2007 survey, administered annually by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. The national survey has been conducted annually since 2000.

A randomly selected sample of UGA freshmen and seniors was asked to complete the survey online last spring. Their responses were compared with responses from students at participating institutions selected by UGA as peers. These included one group of seven public universities in the Southeast geographic region and a second group of nine public universities across the country with similar levels of faculty research activity.

“Comparing the responses of UGA students to students at similar institutions, as well as to all students who participate in NSSE, provides us with an additional measure of our learning environment,” said Ann Crowther, associate vice president for instruction, who has been involved in analyzing data from all three NSSE surveys in which UGA students have participated.

The data from the 2007 national survey was supplied to all participating institutions in August. Crowther and others are in the process of studying the findings and comparing them with data from previous surveys.

NSSE includes five benchmarks of effective educational practice: 1) level of academic challenge; 2) active and collaborative learning; 3) student-faculty interaction; 4) enriching educational experiences; and 5) supportive campus environment.

The most positive UGA data, particularly for seniors, came in the category of enriching educational experiences, according to  Crowther.

“This benchmark reflects the large number of UGA students who participate in study abroad, study a foreign language or participate in co-curricular activities, senior theses and community service,” she said.

Since UGA first participated in the NSSE survey in 2003, a number of steps have been taken to improve the quality of the undergraduate experience. In fall 2004, Provost Arnett C. Mace Jr. appointed a Task Force on General Education and Student Learning, chaired by Morehead and Del Dunn, then vice president for instruction. The task force worked throughout the 2004-05 academic year, soliciting input from faculty and students to develop recommendations for changes and improvements in the academic environment. A final report was submitted to the provost in fall 2005.

Since then, various recommendations have been studied and acted on by University Council. Among the most significant outcomes is a plan to implement a new General Education Curriculum by fall 2008. Another task force recommendation, instituted last year, was the adoption of a plus-minus grading system.

“We believe that as these task force recommendations go into effect, they will have a very positive impact on the intellectual life of the campus,” Morehead said. “NSSE is one instrument we can use to evaluate that impact.”

The University System of Georgia is mandating that all system institutions participate in NSSE in spring 2008, and at that time UGA also has elected to participate in the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement. Crowther and Denise Gardner, interim director of institutional research, will work with a group of faculty and professional staff who will serve as a steering committee with the goal of increasing faculty and student participation in the surveys. Student feedback on the survey process will be sought as well.