diversity digest
Winter 01
Student Experience
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Student Perceptions and College Quality: New Survey Provides Alternative Measurement and Examines Role of Diversity in Learning
Lisa Bernstein, Program Associate, AAC&U

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) recently issued National Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice, the first national report to reveal how students perceive the effects and outcomes of their undergraduate education. This new survey provides positive news about the impact diversity is having on students' educational experiences. It also suggests that more and more students are engaged in community-based projects as a central feature of their educational programs.

While inquiring about many aspects of the educational experience, the survey evaluates how often students engage with students of a different race or ethnicity and those having divergent religious beliefs, political opinions, and personal values. The survey also inquired about activities that involve students actively in community activities.

Eighty-four percent of all students completing the survey said they have had at least occasional serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity, and 46 percent reported having such conversations often or very often. Asked to what extent contact among students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds was encouraged, 78 percent of respondents felt their campus environment emphasized such contact to some degree or more, and 43 percent felt their institution emphasized it "quite a bit" or "very much."

The survey also found that 63 percent of seniors participated in community service or did volunteer work during the current school year, and 41 percent were involved in a community-based project as part of a class assignment. A full 68 percent of first-year students either did or were planning to do community service before graduating from college.

The survey also asked first-year students and seniors questions about their background, college activities, educational and personal growth, and opinions about their school. In contrast to news magazines that rank colleges and universities according to their resources and reputations, the NSSE 2000 Report attempted to measure the extent to which these resources actually contribute to students' learning, in the opinion of the students themselves.

Supported by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts and co-sponsored by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and The Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning, the College Student Report focuses on teaching and learning activities that engage all types of students from all types of institutions. More than 63,000 undergraduate students, enrolled near the end of their first and final years at 276 colleges and universities, completed the questionnaire in Spring 2000. The NSSE project, directed by Indiana University Professor George Kuh, plans to collect and publish student responses on an annual basis to help faculty members and administrators evaluate and improve the quality of their institutions' undergraduate program.

The survey addressed the following five areas of practice important to student learning: Level of Academic Challenge; Amount of Active and Collaborative Learning; Student Interactions with Faculty Members; Enriching Educational Experiences; and Supportive Campus Environment.

By placing issues of diversity and student engagement at the heart of meaningful learning, NSSE 2000 offers a new perspective from which to evaluate and ultimately to improve the quality of undergraduate education.

The survey report is available online at: http://www.pewtrusts.com /pubs/edu/NSSE_2000.pdf.

Recent AAC&U Diversity Publications

To Form a More Perfect Union:
Campus Diversity Initiatives

Charts the efforts of colleges and universities to move from the rhetoric of inclusion to the practice of equity. Etching a portrait of the new academy as it is transformed and reinvigorated by diversity initiatives, the monograph maps the emerging trends in diversity work and insights gained in the process. (1999)
A Diversity Research Agenda
Arguing for the importance of further research about the impact of diversity and higher education, this volume suggests key theoretical frameworks critical when investigating diversity. It also identifies specific areas in the field of diversity research and assessment in which more study is needed.(2000)

To order or to receive information:
By phone: 800/297-3755 (202/297-3755)
By email: pub_desk@aacu.nw.dc.us

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Communication tips
This kind of national study provides an opportunity for diversity practitioners to localize the results and focus attention on their own work. If you know that survey results are going to be released, let local journalists know to watch for the information. Tell them that you have a local "angle" on the story--that diversity activities on your campus are relevant to the study. Then, offer journalists local spokespeople (in this case, students, recent graduates and perhaps faculty members) who can address the same issues examined in the study. Media tend to find people with community service experience especially compelling, because they break the stereotype of campus isolation.

Offer your spokespeople to print and broadcast journalists, have your spokespeople write op/ed pieces and web stories on the topic, and ask them to appear on radio talk shows to relate the national survey results to their own experiences. This way, the national study will receive even more news coverage and you will use the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the diversity activities on your campus.