Campus News

Survey: Educational experiences rate well against peer schools

UGA first-year students and seniors generally give more positive evaluations of their educational experience than students at peer institutions, according to the results of the latest National Survey of Student Engagement.

The 2008 NSSE report, released Nov. 10, is based on information from nearly 380,000 randomly selected students at 722 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. It provides comparative standards for assessing effective educational practices in higher education.

At UGA, a sample of freshmen and seniors were invited to participate in the survey last spring and nearly 2,000 chose to do so. NSSE has been administered nationally each year since 2000 and UGA students have participated previously, providing a basis to compare this year’s results with earlier data.

“The results indicate we are doing the right things to increase the rigor and challenge of a UGA undergraduate education,” said Jere Morehead, vice president for instruction. “While there is continued room for improvement, it is gratifying to see that our efforts are paying off.”

Throughout the past few years, following up on goals identified in UGA’s last strategic plan and recommendations made by the Task Force on General Education, efforts and resources have been focused on enhancing the learning environment in the classroom and beyond. UGA students now have increased access to study-abroad opportunities, more writing-intensive course options and more opportunities for service-learning. UGA also has invested in learning communities for freshmen and has piloted a plus-minus grading system, among other recent changes.

NSSE provides benchmarks in key areas of academic performance, including student-faculty interaction and active and collaborative learning. At UGA, a committee headed by Ann Crowther, associate vice president for instruction, and Denise Gardner, director of Institutional Research, is examining the survey results and has identified four overarching themes: academic expectations, learning experiences, campus connections and educational gains.

The committee is preparing a report that analyzes UGA’s 2008 data in relation to other research universities classified as having “very high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as well as eight institutions selected by UGA as peer comparators. Additionally, UGA data from 2008 and 2005 is being compared to measure progress.

“Students who took the survey as first-year students in 2005 are now seniors, so that gives us some data to measure the impact of their UGA experience,” Crowther said.

Once the final report is prepared, a number of campus conversations about the NSSE results will take place throughout 2009, according to Crowther.

Among the notable findings thus far are that UGA seniors rated their student-faculty interaction and “enriching educational experiences”-which includes such things as internships, study abroad and community service work-significantly higher than senior respondents in the two comparison groups in the latest NSSE data. Comparing 2008 UGA data to 2005 results, the committee found that UGA has made progress for both first-year students and seniors in all benchmark areas.

As has been true in previous surveys, a high percentage (90 percent in 2008) of UGA first-year students reported having a favorable image of UGA, while 92 percent of seniors said they would choose UGA again if they were starting their college career over.

At the national level, universities that participate in NSSE are being encouraged to “look within” and examine variation in the student experience at their institutions.


UGA’s Selected Peer Comparators

Indiana University-Bloomington
Iowa State University
University of Florida
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Iowa
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
University of Texas at Austin
University of Wisconsin-Madison