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Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2004

Indiana University survey: College students benefit from civic engagement, study less than expected

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- According to findings released today (Nov. 15) from the 2004 National Survey of Student Engagement conducted by Indiana University, college students who are more engaged in civic activities gain more during college in terms of ethical development and contributing to the welfare of their community. The findings also point to some improvements in the student experience over the past five years.

For example, more seniors now participate in service learning (from 12 percent five years ago to 19 percent today), have serious conversations with students with different social, political and religious views (from 45 percent to 55 percent), and perceive their campus administration to be helpful, considerate and flexible (from 48 percent to 63 percent).

About half of all students publicly expressed their views on political or community issues important to them, though only about 10 percent acted on those views by volunteering for a political campaign or organizing a petition. Only 10 percent of students rely on newspapers or magazines as their primary source of local, national or international news while more than 50 percent say television is their primary source.

"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, including participating in civic affairs," said George Kuh, NSSE director and IU Bloomington professor of higher education. "In addition, engagement is linked to grades and graduation, outcomes that everyone agrees are important."

Other key findings from the 2004 report are:

  • Students spend only about half as much time preparing for class as faculty expect.
  • Two-fifths of first-year students and 25 percent of seniors never discussed ideas from their classes or readings with a faculty member outside of class.
  • About half of first-year and senior students reported they often or very often had serious conversations with students of a different racial or ethnic group.
  • One-third of all students frequently participate in activities that enhance spirituality, while 42 percent never do so.
  • About a quarter of all students frequently attend cultural and performing arts events during the year, but a group of comparable size never attends such events.
  • Students at historically black colleges and universities are far more likely to participate in a community project linked to a course (28 percent) than students at predominantly white institutions (16 percent).

The 2004 report from NSSE is based on information from 163,000 first-year and senior students at 472 different four-year colleges and universities. The NSSE study, titled "Student Engagement: Pathways to Collegiate Success," gives schools an idea of how well students are learning and what they put into and get out of their undergraduate experience.

The survey results annually provide comparative standards for determining how effectively colleges are contributing to learning. Five key areas of educational performance are measured: (1) level of academic challenge, (2) active and collaborative learning, (3) student-faculty interaction, (4) enriching educational experiences and (5) supportive campus environment.

"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," Kuh said.

According to Molly Broad, president of the University of North Carolina, "NSSE is firmly established as a source of valuable information about the student learning process and is providing university leaders with the comparative data needed to implement needed change." Thomas Ehrlich, senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and president emeritus of Indiana University, said that "NSSE is a remarkably useful tool for everyone on a campus who wants to improve undergraduate education."

The NSSE 2004 Report is co-sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning. NSSE is supported by grants to Indiana University from Lumina Foundation for Education and the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College.

More information about the report and NSSE can be found at

For details about the report, contact John Hayek at 812-856-5824 and