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Jillian Kinzie
IU School of Education

Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2005

New NSSE findings point to "swirl pattern" among undergraduate students

National Survey of Student Engagement results released

Nov. 7, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind -- Almost half of all college seniors took at least one course from another postsecondary institution prior to enrolling at their current institution, according to findings from Indiana University's annual National Survey of Student Engagement, released today (Nov. 7).

This "swirl pattern" -- taking classes from multiple institutions on the way to the baccalaureate -- is a concern to higher education experts, said NSSE Director George Kuh, because transfer students participate less in activities that enrich their learning, such as doing community service or volunteer work and working with a faculty member on a research project.

"Engagement is a critical factor in the educational process because the more time and energy students devote to desired activities, the more likely they are to develop the habits of the mind that are key to success after college," said Kuh, a professor of higher education at the IU School of Education. "In addition, engagement is positively related to grades and graduation, outcomes that everyone agrees are important."

A third of seniors took at least one course at another college after enrolling at their current institution. Most of the outside coursework was done at vocational-technical schools or two-year colleges. Among the more popular reasons for taking a course at another school were to complete degree requirements sooner (47 percent), have a better course schedule (21 percent) or take an easier course (17 percent).

The 2005 NSSE findings are based on information from around 237,000 first-year and senior students at 528 four-year colleges and universities. The NSSE study, titled "Exploring Different Dimensions of Student Engagement," gives schools an idea of how well students are learning and what they put into and get out of their undergraduate experience.

Other key findings:

  • At institutions where faculty members use proven teaching practices, such as frequent feedback and class discussions, students are more satisfied and more likely to interact with their teachers and peers.
  • The 54 percent of all first-year students who took a first-year seminar were more likely to use campus services, were more satisfied with college, and gained more in terms of personal and social development.
  • High-profile student-athletes -- male football and basketball players and female basketball players -- generally take part in effective educational practices at the same level as other students.
  • Graduates of institutions where students interact more with faculty and have a more supportive campus environment are more likely to make financial contributions to their school.
  • African American and Asian American students are the least satisfied with their college experiences.
  • Students who worship frequently or engage in other spirituality-enhancing practices such as meditation also participate more in a broad cross-section of collegiate activities.
  • Three of 10 first-year students reported studying just enough to get by.
  • Although more than 90 percent of new students expect they will get involved in co-curricular activities, 36 percent of first-year students and 43 percent of seniors do none.

The survey measures five key areas of educational performance: (1) level of academic challenge, (2) active and collaborative learning, (3) student-faculty interaction, (4) enriching educational expoeriences and (5) supportive campus environment.

Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education, said NSSE has changed the national conversation about quality in undergraduate education, providing a rich model for institutional change and improvement. Other leaders in higher education agree.

"Student engagement results are invaluable for every campus and organization hoping to deepen and enrich student learning in and out of the classroom," said Elizabeth Hollander, executive director of Campus Compact. According to James Anderson, vice president of the University of Albany, NSSE data "Inform planning and decision-making and encourage institutions to adopt best models and practices."

Kuh said institutions can do more to help students succeed in college by clearly marking paths that students should take to get involved in activities that matter to them and their learning.

The NSSE 2005 Report is sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

For information about NSSE, contact Jillian Kinzie at 812-856-5824 and