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National survey shows UGA students view educational experience positively

Athens, Ga. – First-year students and seniors generally give very positive evaluations of their educational experience at the University of Georgia, according to the results of the latest National Survey of Student Engagement.

Data from the 2011 NSSE survey administered this past spring show that 93 percent of UGA first-year students and 91 percent of seniors rate their entire educational experience at the university as good or excellent. As in previous surveys, a high percentage of UGA seniors-90 percent in 2011-said they would choose UGA again if they were starting their college career over.

The survey, developed by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, has been in use nationally since 2000 and provides comparative standards for assessing effective educational practices in higher education.

All eligible first-year students and seniors at UGA were invited to participate in the survey in the spring of 2011; close to 2,000 chose to do so. The survey was previously administered at UGA in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2008, providing a basis to compare this year’s results with earlier findings.

In addition to providing data for internal comparisons between UGA cohorts over time, NSSE also provides data that allow UGA to measure itself against other comparable institutions. One comparator group included the 35 research universities that share UGA’s Carnegie classification and also participated in this year’s survey; a second comparator group was a subset of 10 peer and aspirational institutions selected by the university.

“This national survey is one means of assessing the current state of student engagement at UGA,” said Laura Jolly, vice president for instruction. “The data provide a rich source of information for improving the undergraduate experience.”

A campus steering committee spent fall semester analyzing the 2011 NSSE data and compiling a report for senior administrators. The committee was co-chaired by Leslie Gordon, associate director of assessment in the Office of Academic Planning, and Denise Gardner, director of the Office of Institutional Research.

“The committee, which included students and representatives from a number of campus units, did an excellent job of distilling a wealth of information from a very large set of data,” Jolly said. “Their efforts help us understand how students at UGA perceive their educational experiences.”

The committee found that despite UGA’s continued overall good marks, student responses in some areas show that there is room for improvement.

For example, only 17 percent of UGA seniors reported having completed a senior experience, such as a capstone project or thesis, compared to 30 percent of students in the Carnegie classification comparator group and 35 percent in the peer group. Such culminating experiences are not currently required in all programs at UGA.

However, UGA seniors reported having participated in community service at a higher rate than respondents in the two comparator groups, and more seniors indicated they participated in a community-based project as part of a regular course, reflecting continued efforts at UGA to involve students in service-learning.

UGA seniors generally reported more contact with faculty than their counterparts at other institutions. Yet one of the largest single-item differences between UGA and its peers was in the lower percent of seniors at UGA who reported working on research projects with faculty outside of course or program requirements. In addition, fewer first-year students indicated plans to do so.

The steering committee report suggests that these results should be monitored as the First-Year Odyssey seminars are implemented to determine if early engagement between students and tenured/tenure-track faculty has the expected impact on students’ plans and actual participation in research projects. The recent expansion of access to programs with UGA’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities is another initiative that addresses this issue.

One area where the latest data show a gain for UGA students over previous surveys is in student experiences with diversity. Both first-year students and seniors either match or surpass their counterparts in the comparator groups on three measures of diversity.

“It is gratifying to review data through the years that indicates we are doing many things right to increase the rigor and challenge of undergraduate education,” said UGA Provost Jere Morehead. “While there is always room for continued improvement, it is good to know that past and current initiatives to improve the quality of undergraduate education have had a positive impact.”