Coming and going: student survey in full swing

by Amber Cox

Administrators are asking freshmen and seniors to participate in the 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to help them improve their classroom experience and general campus life.

Freshman and seniors received an e-mail earlier this week with a link to the Web site to gauge how often students interact with faculty outside of classes, how much time is spent memorizing facts compared to discussing ideas, and various other topics.

Ron Walker, associate vice president for Institutional Analysis, said that the validity of the survey goes “way up if you have more people participating.”

“It provides a benchmark, a national benchmark, in terms of what goes on in the classroom, education, what are the interactions with faculty and what are the other social engagements [students] contribute to and the other co-curricular activities students participate in,” Walker said.

Eileen Corrigan, Rider’s research analyst, stated that the findings are presented to new faculty.

“Each year, when the new faculty comes, we give a presentation on all of our findings for them to know what to expect of their students,” she said. “Some of the questions are, How often do you contact your professor, maybe by e-mail? How often do you discuss your grades with your professors and how much do you interact with them outside of class? So [new faculty] get an idea of what to expect from their students when they step foot into the classroom for the first time.”

Rider has participated in the survey since 2001, and according to Walker, it “puts things on the radar.”

“When the provost, Don Steven, came about five years ago, he got the first results and they showed, for example, the demands being made on freshmen were less than our national peers,” Walker said. “He took that information to the chairs and said that we need to make an effort to exert more demand, to convince people that college is a little bit different than high school.”

In 2008, Rider freshmen  and seniors rated their entire educational experience at 88 percent, while peer institution freshmen rated their overall experience at 85 percent and seniors rated it at 84 percent.

Rider participates faithfully in the survey every two years and it costs the university about $5,000.

“[The price is] determined by the size of our population,” Corrigan said. “Once we plug in how many undergraduates we have, how many freshman and how many seniors, they come back with, ‘Here’s what it’s going to cost for you.’ So smaller schools could pay less and larger schools could pay more. The cost is based on our enrollment.”

Corrigan and Walker both stressed the importance of students participating in the survey, because it gives the students a voice on what Rider is doing right and what it needs to work on to make the student experience more successful and enjoyable.

“The survey also gives us information about what the students perceive our vision to be or the emphasis we put things on,” Corrigan said. “In 2008, when we did the survey, we said one of the highlights of the results was that students perceived there to be a strong institutional emphasis on providing the support they need to succeed academically. We’re encouraging them to succeed so we see what the emphasis is on.”

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