Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oshkosh Fails Again for Student Engagement

The Advance-Titan reported today that student ratings on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) were below the averages for the rest of the UW system again this year.

We have done poorly everytime this survey has been given. The administration is touting the fact that results improved a bit from earlier years, but it still sounds pretty dismal.

Art Rathjen, the new development guy, has been telling everyone who will listen that our graduates often express deep dissatisfaction with their experience here and could not imagine sending their own children to us.

NSSE shows that we are creating a new generation that will not think any better of us.

Petra Roter seems to think (in the article) that all we need is a freshmen experience course to solve this problem. If only it were that simple!


Anonymous said...

Based on your experiences with students here, and experiences at the universities you attended, what would you recommend?

I think one problem we have, which probably isn't solvable at the campus level, is that most of us have to work a considerable amount just to stay in school and have a place to live. Scheduling is a problem. I know a number of people who are working near full time, with more than full time courseloads.

Personally, I've tried to cut back on my work schedule but I will be deep in debt for a long, long time.

Anonymous said...

What kind of suggestions do you have to fix this problem? Do you think the problem lies more in the court of the students, the professors, or both?

Make this a forum of change --- what do you propose?

lammers said...

For whatever reason, it seems that many of our "full-time" students really *aren't*. By that, I mean they have various distractions that prevent them from becoming fully engaged in their education. For many this is the need to work to pay tuition; the state today subsidizes the cost of college very poorly compared to 20 or 30 years ago. For others, it is family commitments, e.g., young children. Many students live at home to cut expenses and commute; commuter students are seldom as engaged in campus life as those living in dorms or Greek houses. They seem to still have one foot in childhood, and haven't mentally seen themselves as adults.

These are not the sorts of things that a first-year expereience could cure. The one thing some sort of initial training might do is to disabuse our students of the idea that they can approach college as they did high school. In many school districts, doing well in high school merely requires regular attendance and proper deportment. Don't rock the boat, and you'll get your diploma. Students must understand that this is a recipe for disaster in college. One cannot simply go through the motions and put in time and get anything of value out of college. Telling them this the day after Labor Day isn't much good -- they are too excited and anxious to remember much from that day. Better to pull them all in sometime in mid-October, once they've had a few shocks already. They'll be more prepared to hear the message then.

I tell students in our Bio Orientation course that the only thing sadder than someone flunking out of college is someone graduating with nothing more to show for it than a good GPA. They are shocked when I opine that the latter is only marginally more employable than the dropout. It is a major newsflash to them that they are going to want to have a diverse array of documentable experiences on their resume by the time they graduate -- related jobs, organization participation, volunteer work, independent study, internships, letters of recommendation from knowledgable profs, etc.

You want better NSSE scores? Cut tuition costs in half and require freshman to live on campus. That wi--

What's that --?

Yeah, that's what I thought ...

Anonymous said...

How about raising the standards for faculty curriculum modification? The faculty members who are not productive enough can teach more classes and create smaller classes. The current standards, if any, seem rather low.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder if students today are generally demoralized about life. There is ample evidence (be it spin from either "side", or actual fact) of bad climate change, bad economy, bad government, bad society, bad enemies, etc. All pointing to a difficult future. I mean, think about the messages we hear from politicians about "the debt we are leaving for our children and grandchildren"... they are talking about our students... Could it be that there is a general feeling of disconnect, cynicism, despair even? And that it bleeds into campus life as well?

Anonymous said...

I don't think students have a clear enough understanding of college expectations. The A-T's story about the potential nursing program offers an example. The story reports that UWO (in conjunction with another university) could offer a doctorate after one year of study beyond a master's degree, and graduates could be grandfathered in! When UWO starts giving away doctorates like Halloween candy, should we be surprised that undergraduates think college should be easy.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that there is a general feeling of disconnect, cynicism, despair even? And that it bleeds into campus life as well?

As a student - without question, YES.


Anonymous said...

I'm the one who posted the "I wonder" comment... so we have a student respondent who says "yes"... maybe our Freshman Experience needs to include a unit on "hope" and how to get it through the university experience. That is certainly how I got the intellectual tools I have relied upon for hope through life. Maybe others will be similarly served. After all, every generation has had its despots, its plagues, its weather catastrophes, its wars, its economic depressions. On big and small levels, some people HAVE found ways to cope, were truly resilient in the face of horror; whereas others clearly despaired. In my field, research has too often focused on the disease state, not enough on states of resilience. What bestows resilience? How can we foster it? We could do more on campus to build a culture of resilience. Signed, Dana Vaughan.
PS how do I sign off on comments so as to show my name?

Anonymous said...

Aren't these freshman experiences fairly new? I know I didn't get one several decades ago. Is something broader going on that the colleges think they have to provide hope? What are the parents doing?

In general, the dean of students office used to be something to fear--to keep you on the straight and narrow. Now it seems to be turning into a warm and fuzzy place (and sometimes anti-faculty).

lammers said...

Dana Vaughan asked:
"PS how do I sign off on comments so as to show my name?"

At the bottom, click "Other" instead of "Anonymous." The box below it will change to "Name" and you can type your name in there.

lammers said...

Anonymous said:

"How about raising the standards for faculty curriculum modification? The faculty members who are not productive enough can teach more classes and create smaller classes. The current standards, if any, seem rather low."

I don't think that is how it would work. Instead, professors would be used to teach introductory sections currently taught by academic staff, thus reducing the number of academic staff on the payroll. I don't think there is any way this approach would lead to additional courses or smaller sections, just greater unemployment.

squanto said...

The problem with student dis-satisfaction I think can largely be traced back not to the educational process but that we as an institution lack a general esprit d'corps. Students are here to get their degree and then leave. Very little here engages them on a social level or on a community level. Most of the current administration sets them selves up as an elitist group that barely understands the needs and wants of students let alone faculty and staff.

Think back to your undergrad years, there probably was a connection to your school that went beyond academics. At UW think about the quant/odd ball shops and night spots on State St or the social activities sponsored by the Memorial Union (not to mention the ice cream). Or up in MPLS at UM think about exploring Dinkytown and the unique setting with the Mississippi. Or, in countless small towns with small U's how the university is the main hub of everything and the town embraces the hometown U with a gusto reserved for an elderly relative with a big will (think Appleton and Lawrence). These things create memories for current students and for alumni decades from now.

What do we have? A union that has very little to offer students (and faculty for that matter) other than poor quality over priced food and a book store that thinks offering national/international media offering about 6 copies of the the Milw Jrnl/Sntl and Madison State Jrnl. Our own commercial district adjacent to campus consists of a couple strip centers with perhaps 6 or so restaurants. We have university administrators who sold the students right to pick what kind of soda they want to the highest bidder and their banking rights to US Bank for a bag of shiny beads. To top it off we have a community that largely views this U with contempt if not outright disgust.

Is it the academics here that lead to the dis-satisfaction? Nope, the academics are just fine, It is everything else that makes up the college experience and Petra's Freshman Experience course ain't going change that and neither will remodeling dorms (I'm old they are dorms not residence halls).

Dempsey needs to listen to faculty and staff, listen to students and to work to change the external factors that truly impact our students lives. Or, on the other hand, Dempsey can just worry about wowing the next search committee at the next school (hey, I built a parking ramp!) and let someone else get things moving in the right direction.

lammers said...

I find "Squanto's" comments very perceptive, at least in terms of proximate if not ultimate causes (i.e., he assigns the administration more responsible for the campus zeitgeist than I would). It is what I was fumbling for when I commented on students living on campus.

I was an undergrad three decades ago at Iowa State in Ames. The setting was much as Squanto says: a "Campus Town" across the street from campus, full of quaint odd shops, great bars and distinctive restaurants, etc. Most students were from some distance away, and rarely went home on weekends. My first quarter, I didn't go home till Thanksgiving. I felt that I had LEFT home and now "belonged" to Ames, that Iowa State was now my HOME. I do not think that this attitude is shared by a great number of our students, and it makes a difference. Doing well in college means TOTAL IMMERSION in it, not dipping a toe in around the edges.

Lake Winneblogo said...

This has developed into a very interesting thread of comments.

I don't know that I have my own prescriptions for solving this problem.

My feeling is that college has become too much like high school for our students. Especially since so many of our students come from nearby, with many of their old friends, they don't understand that college should be a new world.

We as instructors have let them off the hook. We don't give them the necessary challenge to break their old ways of thinking. We don't make it clear that the those ways won't work. They don't study because they don't have to. They don't go to cultural activities because they don't have to.

As Lammers rightly points out, we need to make UWO a place that is qualitatively different than school before. We must be an experience that is different than anything they have done before and challenge them to rise to the occasion. Most of our students can do it, we just don't ask it of them.

Anonymous said...

Are you SURE UWO is different from high school? Every survey we do says students find they need to do less work their first year than they expected. Our freshmen say they work few hours for pay, need to work little on assignments, and have lots of time for social activities.

It would be interesting to actually track a few first year students to see what assignments they get, how hard their tests really are, and how many hours school really demands of them. I fear most of the faculty would be embarrassed.

Lake Winneblogo said...

We should be embarrassed!!

This is exactly my point.

We have abdicated our responsibilites in the name of access, retention, and fear of being hassled.