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Survey of Student Engagement Grades Juniata Students in Top Rung

(Posted January 15, 2007)

Juniata President Thomas R. Kepple

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Seniors at Juniata College report that well over 80 percent of the senior class had experienced an internship, practicum, field experience or clinical assignment as part of their college career. Less than 70 percent of college seniors across the country who participated in the survey had a similar experience.
Juniata students took part in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a survey developed at Indiana University at Bloomington. The survey, which began in 1999, polls students at participating institutions to measure how engaged students are in their educational experiences. Each college or university participating in the survey receives an annual report detailing how it rates in comparison to its peers in five categories. The data measures level of academic challenge, frequency of active and collaborative learning, quality of interaction between students and faculty, prevalence of enriching educational experiences and the overall supportiveness of the campus.
The annual national study, "Engaged Learning: Fostering Success of All Students," is based on information gleaned from around 260,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 523 four-year colleges and universities. The study is sponsored by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
"Juniata College is above all a community of learners and the National Survey of Student Engagement reveals that we are above our peers in emphasizing studying and academic work while encouraging our first-year students to interact with other students outside the classroom, either in study groups or socially," says Thomas R. Kepple, president of Juniata. "The data reveals that almost all our seniors leave here with hands-on, real-world experience from an internship or field experience and that more than half of our graduates self-designed their educational program or created an independent study project."
Juniata was rated significantly above its peer institutions for first-year students in a number of categories. Ninety percent of first-year students said Juniata emphasizes studying and academic work, while 71 percent sought out classmates to prepare class assignments. Approximately 17 percent of first-year students have a field experience, internship or practicum, compared to just 8 percent of Juniata's peer institutions. Nearly 90 percent of the first-year students positively rated their relationships with other students, while 72 percent positively rated their interactions with Juniata's administrative staff.
Juniata's seniors rose above their peers in a number of academic categories. Students reported that 46 percent of them had written more than 10 papers of fewer than 5 pages during their college career, compared to 37 percent of their peers. The community concept of learning continues throughout the Juniata experience as 75 percent of Juniata students worked with classmates outside the classroom to prepare assignments, compared to 64 percent of peer institutions. Experiential learning is highly prized at Juniata, as 83 percent of seniors had an internship, practicum or field experience, compared to 69 percent at other colleges and universities participating in the survey. Juniata's Program of Emphasis educational plan, which allows students to design their own major, also was rated highly, as 51 percent of respondents reported they had self-designed their major or created an independent study project, compared to 41 percent of their peers.
The NSSE survey allows Juniata to fine tune its programs that increase student engagement and make improvements to areas that students rated lower than other colleges and universities.
"The NSSE survey is one of a number of studies, ratings or polls a college can use to improve our learning environment. More and more colleges are using NSSE to find out how the college and our students can improve student engagement and success," Kepple says.
Cindy Clarke, Juniata's director of institutional research, points out that Juniata ranked above the national sample in a number of categories (in addition to those highlighted previously). In rating academic challenge, Juniata students are above the national average in time spent preparing for class, are more likely rewrite an assignment or paper before turning it in, and more like to use multiple sources in writing a paper or project. The study also found that the Juniata experience is more likely to help students write and speak clearly and effectively.
In student-faculty interactions, Juniata students rated higher than the national sample in that they are more likely to talk about career plans with a faculty member, discuss ideas from readings or classes with faculty, receive prompt feedback from faculty on performance, and work directly with faculty on outside activities and research projects.

"Juniata College is above all a community of learners and the National Survey of Student Engagement reveals that we are above our peers in emphasizing studying and academic work while encouraging our first-year students to interact with other students outside the classroom, either in study groups or socially."

In the category of Enriching Educational Experiences, Juniata students also are more likely to do volunteer work or community service and take part in co-curricular activities. The college was rated higher in emphasizing contact with students of diverse backgrounds, attending campus events, and using computers in academic work.
The College rating in Supportive Campus Environment also held high ratings in providing academic support, help in coping with non-academic responsibilities and in providing support for students to thrive socially.
In general terms, for all the colleges and universities polled, the survey revealed trends throughout higher education. These findings include:
--While student engagement helps all learners, those who come to college less well-prepared academically or are from historically under-represented racial and ethnic backgrounds tend to benefit even more.
--First-year students at liberal arts colleges participate more often in class discussions and view their faculty more positively than students at other institutions.
--Interacting with faculty members and working with peers on projects inside and outside of class has positive effects on grades and increases the odds that students will return to college for a second year.
--Student engagement is positively related to grades and to persistence between the first and second year of college.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.