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According to a Reliable Source…
Students Tell It Like It Is about Their St. Lawrence Education

By Macreena A. Doyle

What do our students say? If you want to know what life at St. Lawrence (or any college) is like, students are the most credible source. And according to a nationally administered survey, students think St. Lawrence is a great place to get an education.

Beginning in 1999 with a pilot program and continuing every year since, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has been administered to first-year students and seniors at colleges and universities across the country. In 2006, the survey, the most comprehensive assessment of effective practices in higher education, includes data from 260,000 students at 523 four-year colleges and universities.

To focus discussion about the importance of student engagement and assist institutions in making improvements, the NSSE created five "benchmarks" of effective educational practice:

- Level of academic challenge
- Active and collaborative learning
- Student-faculty interaction
- Enriching educational experiences
- Supportive campus environment

The St. Lawrence Findings
The outcomes of the most recent St. Lawrence students' surveys, released in the fall of 2006, showed some outstanding results and significant improvements in key areas from 2002, for both first-year students and seniors. A total of 441 students participated in the 2006 surveys (236 first-year students and 205 seniors). Students are selected randomly from eligible groups and among first-year students, the response rate was 46 percent; the response rate for seniors was 86 percent.

Improvement was seen in four of the five "benchmarks":
- Level of academic challenge
- Active and collaborative learning
- Student-faculty interaction
- Enriching educational experiences

St. Lawrence's strengths, as indicated by the survey results, include:

- Strong emphasis on and personal growth in oral communication; writing; requiring preparation of multiple drafts; integration of ideas from various fields of study and sources; and collaboration on projects in and outside the classroom.
- Compared with all other institutions participating in the surveys, a doubled percentage (60 percent) of students undertaking a culminating senior-year experience.
- Higher-than-average participation (43%) in study abroad.
- Greater student-faculty interaction on committees and other activities outside the classroom.
- Higher-than-average participation in athletics and co-curricular activities.

Based on survey results of first-year students, St. Lawrence scored highest in:
- Number of papers and reports written between five and 19 pages in length
- Making class presentations
- Spending more than five hours per week participating in co-curricular activities
- Working with other students on projects during classes
- Writing at least one paper or report of 20 pages or more in length

Based on survey results of seniors, the University had its highest scores in these categories:
- Writing at least one paper or report of 20 pages or more in length
- Making class presentations
- Working with classmates outside of class to prepare assignments
- Conducting an independent study or self-designed major
- Spending more than five hours per week participating in co-curricular activities

As might be expected, the surveys also show some areas of concern for the University, where changes to current policies and practices might be warranted. They include:
- Compared with schools similar to St. Lawrence, a lower satisfaction with advising.
- Lower satisfaction with institutional support, faculty-student and administrator-student relationships.
- Compared with all other institutions participating in the surveys, less interaction among students of differing backgrounds, particularly race.
- Fewer gains in "developing a personal code of values and ethics"; a "deepened sense of spirituality"; "critical thinking"; and "solving real-world problems."
- More hours spent by seniors "relaxing and socializing," with concurrent lower involvement in activities such as attending campus events.

Many of the findings are consistent with the University's own research, also conducted through surveys of first-year students and seniors.

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