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Richard Doty

Last modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Study shows IU provides quality relationships for students

Indiana University excels in providing quality relationships for students with other students, faculty members and administrators while providing a supportive campus environment that allows students to thrive academically and socially.

These are among the findings in the National Survey of Student Engagement, a recently released study on academic learning in a college environment. NSSE provides information on effective teaching practices and student experiences for some 155,000 first-year and senior students at 470 four-year colleges and universities. Some 1,100 IU Bloomington students were included among the 16,000 students surveyed at 73 large research universities in the study.

The IUB freshmen and seniors scored higher on average in all five categories when compared to other large research universities. The five measurement areas were level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student interactions with faculty members, enriching educational experiences and supportive campus environment.

Two of the highest marks for IU were in supportive campus environment. The IUB seniors scored higher on average than seniors did at 90 percent of the other large research institutions, and the corresponding figure for freshmen was 72 percent. Criteria for supportive campus environment include the quality of relationships with students, faculty and administrators, and providing a campus environment that allows students to succeed academically and socially.

IUB Chancellor Sharon Stephens Brehm said, "The National Survey of Student Engagement is an exceptionally interesting and useful approach to examining the learning process that college students experience, both in and out of the classroom. The NSSE data indicate that the Bloomington faculty and academic support personnel have created both a challenging and supportive learning environment.

"We should be justly proud of the quality of learning experiences our students report," Brehm continued. "NSSE is a valuable teaching tool that can help us continue to enhance the learning and personal development opportunities that the Bloomington campus offers its undergraduates."

Two other categories where IU students exceeded those at other institutions were enriching educational experiences, where seniors scored higher on average than their counterparts at 87 percent of other large research institutions, and level of academic challenge, where freshmen scored higher on average than those at 77 percent of similar schools.

Enriching educational experiences include community service, studying abroad, foreign language course work, having serious conversations with students from a different background, and a campus environment that encourages contact among students from different backgrounds. Results from individual items within this category show that 72 percent of IU seniors (compared with 62 percent at other like institutions) have serious conversations often or very often with students who differ from them in terms of religious beliefs, political opinions or personal values. Nearly 9 percent more IUB seniors do community service or volunteer work, 15 percent more study foreign languages and 8 percent more study abroad than those at the other large research institutions surveyed.

IU senior Colin Goedecke of Palm Springs, Calif., agreed with the findings on meeting other students. "IU has been the greatest experience of my life, and this is partially due to opportunities for interaction among students who did not share my beliefs on religion or politics and had different personal values. I have engaged in conversations that opened my mind and enriched my college experience," Goedecke said.

Level of academic challenge includes preparing for class through studying, reading and writing; number of assigned textbooks; and number and length of required written papers. An area of strength for IU in this category was writing class papers. Compared to other large research universities, IUB seniors write as many long and medium-length papers but considerably more short-length papers of fewer than five pages (74 percent wrote five or more such papers, compared with 61 percent at other large research universities). The figures for the IUB freshmen were comparable for long and medium-length papers, but the gap was even wider for short papers (61 percent wrote 11 or more such papers compared with 35 percent at other large research institutions).

Goedecke said the number of short class papers he has prepared at IU has provided benefits beyond the actual writing. "I think the opportunity to think about many different topics during several shorter papers may foster and facilitate more discussion on the part of students. These shorter papers often sparked my enthusiasm in a certain subject, which led me to discuss it and research it more outside of the classroom. These discussions outside of class provided some of the real learning opportunities during my experience at IU," he said.

Chancellor Brehm added, "We believe it is important and gratifying that IUB is at or well above the norm in all five categories, relative to other large research universities." This includes the category of student interactions with faculty members, where IU seniors scored higher on average than seniors at 69 percent of large research institutions. IU freshmen scored higher on average than freshmen at 66 percent of like schools. The category of student interaction with faculty members covers discussing grades or assignments with the instructor, discussing career plans with a faculty member, and working with faculty on ideas covered inside and outside of class.

This category also reflects IUB's advanced computer technology. Some 90 percent of IU seniors, compared with 74 percent at other large research universities, use e-mail often or very often to communicate with a faculty member. For freshmen, the corresponding numbers were 81 percent at IU and 67 percent at similar research universities.

Freshman Wade Griffen of Ft. Wayne, Ind., feels the high marks for IU accurately represent his first-year experiences. "The programs used at IU help beginning students get more out of the resources that can be used on campus. It's easy to get ahold of my professors. If I want to make friends or get help for classes, all I need to do is write a simple e-mail."

NSSE is supported by a $3.3 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the IU School of Education and co-sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The study challenges the view of college quality popularized by national news magazines that rate colleges largely on the basis of their institutional resources and public reputations. The NSSE survey shows that a college's academic reputation reveals very little about the quality of learning that its students experience. By focusing on whether colleges are using their resources to help students learn and get the most out of college, NSSE provides new information to students and parents in the college search process.