There's Room For Improvement In Student Engagement, Study Shows

By Vanessa Denice
Posted November 20, 2013 11:00 AM

High-impact experiences such as collaborative learning were found to be an important part of education.
High-impact experiences such as collaborative learning were found to be an important part of education.

Earning a bachelor's degree is about more than just spending time in the classroom; it's also about acquiring real-world skills that will help students in the future. It's not easy to evaluate these opportunities and efforts, however, which is why one recent study focused on how student engagement impacts educational practices.

A new report from the National Survey of Student Engagement, titled "A Fresh Look at Student Engagement - Annual Results 2013," asked nearly 335,000 college freshmen and seniors from more than 500 institutions about their educational experience. Inquiring about everything from classroom preparations to technology and collaborative learning, the survey aimed to find out how student engagement and a college education go hand-in-hand. 

High-Impact Practices Are Key

The report found that first-year students who participated in a "high-impact practice," such as a learning community, service opportunities or faculty-aided research, experienced great improvements in their academic knowledge, skills and personal development. These students were also more likely to be satisfied with their overall educational experience and said they would choose the same school again. 

Using hands-on experiences to supplement college courses is not new, but the NSSE hopes that its findings will cause institutions to consider expanding and implementing more opportunities for students. 

"NSSE has helped colleges and universities focus on what matters to student learning for more than a decade, and the updated survey offers valuable new information to enhance these efforts," said Alexander C. McCormick, the NSSE director and a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, in a press release. 

Advising Found to be Lacking

One of the most surprising findings of the survey surrounds the use of academic advisors as a source of support and guidance for students. Only 40% of respondents said an advisor was their primary authority for making decisions about course selection and other academic plans. Although about 18% of college seniors turned to a different faculty member for aid instead, many other students are searching for advice from friends and family. Approximately 33% of freshmen and 18% of seniors reported that their go-to for educational guidance was a friend or family member. 

McCormick told Inside Higher Ed that lack of students utilizing advisors during their quest for bachelor's degrees was "concerning." After all, not only are some students failing to take advantage of all of their resources at an institution, and potentially missing out on some high-impact opportunities in the process, but many are also ignoring peer evaluations and similar course breakdowns as they plan their classes. Only about half of students surveyed said they used formal evaluations and feedback from fellow students when selecting courses, despite the widespread availability of many of these critiques.

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