The Miami Report

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New survey shows Miami shines; president commends faculty

I was especially pleased to receive this month the results of the first National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning. This multimillion dollar national survey has attempted to cut through the clutter of test scores and library holdings that characterize most ranking surveys and size up what really counts – a campus environment that actively engages students in learning.

The survey identified five criteria against which to benchmark colleges: whether a school’s curriculum is challenging and rigorous; whether students learn actively and collaboratively; whether students interact frequently with their professors; whether a school provides enriching noncurricular experiences; and whether a campus environment supports overall student development. In essence, this survey tried to get to the heart of what makes one college better than another in terms of the quality of education received by students.

So how did Miami University do? In a word, brilliantly. Based on information obtained from 63,000 randomly selected students in 276 four-year colleges and universities, Miami University ranked near the top of all doctoral-intensive institutions in every one of the five benchmark areas.

In fact, based on responses obtained from graduating seniors, the NSSE named Miami as one of only three doctoral-intensive universities highlighted for exemplary performance. The study went on to document that Miami students read more, write more, participate more in class discussions, and interact more with the faculty than their peers at other schools.

Like many of you, I have grown skeptical of college rating services that attempt to dress up their subjective assessments with a patina of quasi-scientific precision. But setting aside concerns about their data collection and evaluation methodologies, I believe such services basically miss the point. By focusing on a college’s resources, whether financial resources such as endowment size or intellectual resources such as the SAT scores of entering freshmen, the services fail to capture how well a school does its job at educating students.

When push comes to shove, students receive better educations at colleges whose courses are rigorous and demanding, and where professors take seriously their responsibilities as mentors and advisors. Students learn more at colleges where the faculty and staff are supportive, nurturing and genuinely committed to their students’ educational progress. Students learn more at colleges where they are not just faces in the crowd.

In this respect, the NSSE survey is a breath of fresh air. Finally, a careful national assessment has identified what Miami does well. Do we have room for improvement? Of course. But the NSSE survey should provide great satisfaction to our students and their families, because it affirms that their college choice was wisely made.

The NSSE survey should also be a source of pride to those of us who live and work at the university. Although all of us contribute to these achievements, I would especially like to commend our faculty for their efforts. Miami professors spend countless hours after class with their students, take great care to prepare innovative and challenging courses, and set high expectations for teaching excellence for themselves and their colleagues. This extraordinary commitment to students is unusual in higher education, and it is enormously gratifying for our efforts finally to be recognized.

As the semester comes to its end, I know this is a very busy time for all of us. On behalf of the thousands of Miami students who are depending on you, please know that your hard work is most gratefully acknowledged and appreciated. Thank you and best wishes for the holiday season.

Date Published: 12/08/2000
Volume: 20   Number: 18


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