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New survey benchmarks college outcomes

A national survey released Nov. 13 shows that Miami students take part in practices important to their learning at consistently higher levels than students at comparable universities.

In fact, Miami was one of only 19 universities out of 276 participating in the survey to be cited as a "strong performer" on the basis of responses by seniors to a series of questions about the academic challenges they have faced.

Questions ranged from the number of written papers to whether courses emphasized applying theories or concepts to practical problems.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is a new initiative funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts designed to collect information directly from undergraduates about the quality of their education.

NSSE provides prospective students with data on colleges and universities that truly affect learning, explained Provost Ronald Crutcher.

"Rankings such as those used by U.S. News & World Report put too much emphasis on test scores of entering students or the percentage of alumni who donate. Miami clearly does well on these measures, but what’s important is what happens to students while they’re here, what value we actually add to their lives," Crutcher said.

More than 63,000 first-year students and seniors, selected randomly by NSSE from participating four-year schools nationwide, were asked 40 questions designed to provide benchmarks for five areas important to learning and personal development.

The results compare Miami’s performance to both national NSSE norms and norms for the category of higher educational institution (doctoral-intensive) that Miami is classified as under the Carnegie system. (Other classifications include liberal arts colleges, master’s institutions, doctoral-extensive universities, etc.)

"The NSSE survey provides a lot of information beyond these summaries that can be used to evaluate and improve performance," said Denise Krallman, assistant director, institutional research. "One of the items that we can be proudest of is that Miami is in the top 20 percent of comparable institutions—that is doctoral-intensive universities—in each of the five benchmark areas."

The institutional benchmark score is the weighted arithmetic average (mean) of corresponding survey items, calculated by dividing the sum of values for each item by the total number of students responding to that item. Each benchmark was put on a 100-point scale and the higher the number the better the performance. Comparison group benchmark scores are the average of all institutional benchmarks within the group.

The results follow:

• Level of academic challenge (questions included such items as number of and length of written papers, if coursework emphasizes applying theories or concepts to new problems, etc.):

Miami first-year students, 52; other doctoral-intensive schools, 48.2; national norm (all participating schools); 50.2.

Miami seniors, 57.4; other doctoral-intensive schools, 50.5; national norm, 52.8.

• Active and collaborative learning (questions included such items as asking questions in class, discussing ideas from class with others outside of class, etc.):

Miami first-year students, 39.9; other doctoral-intensive schools, 38.6; national norm, 40.9.

Miami seniors, 54.5; other doctoral-intensive schools, 46.9; national norm, 49.6.

• Student interaction with faculty members (questions asked how often students discussed an idea from readings or classes with a faculty member outside of class or received prompt feedback from faculty on academic performance, etc.):

Miami first-year students, 27.5; other doctoral-intensive schools, 27.5; national norm, 31.2.

Miami seniors, 43.3; doctoral-intensive, 35.7; national norm, 39.7.

• Enriching educational experiences (questions included such items as participation in foreign language coursework or study abroad, a campus environment that encourages contact among students from different economic, social and racial backgrounds):

Miami first-year students, 53.3; other doctoral-intensive schools, 46.3; national norm, 49.3.

Miami seniors, 53.7; other doctoral-intensive schools, 40.9; national norm, 44.1.

• Supportive campus environment (questions included such items as quality of relationships with other students and faculty members, academic support, etc.):

Miami first-year students, 58; other doctoral-intensive schools, 54.8; national norm, 59.8.

Miami seniors, 55.5; other doctoral-intensive schools, 52.2; national norm, 56.4.

The differences between Miami’s first-year and senior benchmarks are significant, according to Krallman. Although more analysis is needed, it is obvious that Miami’s programs are adding value to students’ lives, she said.

"If higher education is to demonstrate accountability, we need meaningful benchmarks like these to measure our performance," said Crutcher. "This survey, for the first time, provides us with information about the kind of job Miami is doing preparing students to be global citizens. And as we acquire data spanning multiple years, NSSE will be even more helpful."

Date Published: 11/16/2000
Volume: 20   Number: 16

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