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Survey finds high level of student satisfaction at FHSU

Special to The Hays Daily News

Students at Fort Hays State University enjoy productive relationships with faculty members and with administrative personnel and offices and spend a lot more time than the average college student working off campus and providing care for dependents living with them.

All this, and more, according to this year's National Survey of Student Engagement, which received responses from 285,000 freshmen and seniors at 546 colleges and universities. The survey, abbreviated NSSE and called "Nessie," was begun in 1999 with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The report for 2012, the 13th, titled "Annual Results 2012," is sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Released last week, the full report can be downloaded from a link on the NSSE home page at www.nsse.iub.edu.

"FHSU's participation in the National Survey of Student Engagement is another example of our continual pursuit of excellence," said FHSU President Edward H. Hammond. "It not only shows us where we're doing well but also helps us find problem areas and develop strategies for addressing them."

The purpose of the survey as stated on the report's table of contents page, is "surveying college students to assess the extent to which they engage in educational practices associated with high levels of learning and development." The survey asks freshmen and seniors to answer questions about aspects of their college education and life.

On several areas of measurement, "We always do well," said Chris Crawford, assistant provost for quality management at FHSU. These are such things as statistically significant higher levels than many peer institutions on:

* Academic advising, on which seniors have rated FHSU more than 3.0 on a 4-point scale every year except one since 2004 (3.19 for 2012).

* Using computers in academic work, which 2012 seniors rated at 3.56 on a 4-point scale of 1 very little to 4 very much.

* On the same scale, 2012 seniors rated FHSU at 3.35 on a more overall question of using computing and information technology.

For freshmen, FHSU's highest performance benchmarks were at or above average compared to its peer groups and NSSE overall, in percentage of students, for:

* A level-of-academic-achievement question on whether students had to write more than 10 papers or reports of five or fewer pages (29 percent).

* Asked questions or "contributed to class discussions" (59 percent).

* "Discussed grades or assignments with an instructor" (52 percent).

* "Worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework" (19 percent).

* "Used an electronic medium to discuss or complete an assignment" (59 percent).

In addition, 60 percent of freshmen and 62 percent of seniors said they thought "the institution is committed to their success." These also are higher than peers at statistically significant levels.

"We do best on the level of academic challenge and the supportive campus environment," Crawford said.

The questions on which FHSU does less well, he said, are on active and collaborative learning (ACL), which asked, "Are your students actively involved in their learning, individually and working with others?" and student-faculty interaction (SFI), which asked, "Do your students work with faculty members inside and outside the classroom?" The ACL percentage was 39 for freshmen and 45 for seniors, while SFI was 33 for freshmen and 39 for seniors.

"We've consistently not done as well on these," said Crawford, adding those are at least partially an "artifact of virtual learning."

"We have a high virtual participation, 20 percent for freshmen and 70 percent for seniors," he said. "We've addressed it through seeking great instructors for Virtual College classes. We're always looking for higher quality instruction."

That heavy virtual component is also at play in the high numbers of hours "providing care for dependents living with you," which for FHSU students was an average of almost 10 hours per week, well above the peer group averages of less than six.

Crawford said FHSU has participated in NSSE because "it really is the best national level engagement survey for freshmen and seniors." It is also the only national benchmark survey in which FHSU has participated. It is part of the "overall retention picture for the institution," he said, which means, basically, keeping students in school.

"We're more concerned with performance over time," he said.

As examples, he pointed to how 2012 seniors responded to what he called "the big-picture satisfaction" questions:

* "How would you evaluate your entire education experience at this institution?" FHSU got an average rating of 3.31 in 2012 on a 4-point scale of 1 poor to 4 excellent.

* In the category of educational and personal growth, one question was "acquiring a broad general education." Seniors this year gave FHSU an average rating of 3.31 on a 4-point scale of 1 very little to 4 very much.

* In that same category and scale, the question of "acquiring job or work-related knowledge and skills," 3.12.

* Still in the educational and personal growth category and scale, "learning effectively on your own": 3.22.

And finally, Crawford pointed to one of the most telling "big-picture" questions: "If you could start over again, would you go to the same institution you are now attending?" Seniors this year, on a scale of 1 definitely no to 4 definitely yes, gave FHSU an average ranking of 3.39.

FHSU will not participate in next year's survey, which will be an extensive overhaul of the survey as it has evolved through the last 13 years.

"We want to see how it plays out," Crawford said.