Santa Clara University

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The Faculty-Staff Newsletter, e-mail edition
Santa Clara University, November 1, 2007, Vol. 8, No. 4

New online source for college data

According to Don Dodson, senior vice provost, “All universities, including SCU, need to be more transparent about how we design positive educational experiences for students, and about how beneficial it is for our students to engage in these experiences.”

Each year, NSSE asks students at hundreds of colleges and universities to reflect on the time they devote to various learning activities. Results from the survey can provide high school students with insights into how they might learn and develop at a given college.

By checking the USA Today site, high school students interested in attending Santa Clara would learn that by their senior year, 77 percent of SCU students had participated in some form of internship or field experience. In addition, they would learn that 79 percent of SCU seniors had participated in community service or volunteer work. These are just examples of information that NSSE data will give students and their parents.

Approximately 1,200 colleges and universities have participated in NSSE, now in its eighth year. Until now, though, the public had very little access to the results. Typically, researchers and school administrators use the NSSE results as a tool to improve the student experience.

Schools on the new site will not be ranked. While some other college surveys focus on and rank-order institutions based on their resources or reputation, NSSE homes in on the quality of students’ undergraduate experiences by asking freshmen and seniors questions in five benchmark areas:

  • level of academic challenge
  • active and collaborative learning
  • student-faculty interaction
  • enriching educational experiences
  • supportive campus environments.

Some sample questions from the 2007 survey include:

  • How often have you worked harder than you thought you could to meet an instructor’s standards or expectations?
  • During the current school year, how much has your coursework emphasized synthesizing and organizing ideas, information or experiences into new, more complex interpretations and relationships?
  • In a typical week, how many homework problem sets do you complete?
  • How often have you participated in activities to enhance your spirituality (worship, meditation, prayer, etc.)?
  • Have you participated in community service or volunteer work?
  • To what extent has your experience at this institution contributed to your knowledge and skills in solving complex, real-world problems?

With such information now so readily available, high school students and their families are likely to use the results to whittle down their list of prospective colleges. They will be able to compare how the data from various schools meshes with their own needs and learning styles. But although NSSE delves into some of the complex components of a successful undergraduate education, applicants still need to determine if a school is a good fit for them personally.

“Even though the NSSE data provides helpful insights into the student experience at various schools, no survey can replace a campus visit and talking with admissions counselors, faculty, and students,” Dodson said.