January 27, 2003

Oxford student survey measures success

By Eric Rangus erangus@emory.edu

Ask anyone affiliated with Oxford College his or her opinion about the school, and the vast majority will say Oxford is built upon—and is successful because of— a strong interaction between students and faculty, and a challenging and engaging curriculum.

Now Oxford has some numbers to back up those boasts.

Last spring, Oxford was one of 618 U.S. colleges and universities to take part in the third annual National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The results came back in the fall, and they were quite good.

Of the five benchmarks graded by the survey, Oxford finished in the top 10 percent
in three of them (Level of Academic Challenge, Student Interactions With Faculty and Enriching Educational Experi-ences), in the top 20 percent of a fourth (Active and Collaborative Learning) and in the top 30 percent of the survey’s fifth benchmark (Supportive Campus Environment). Emory’s Atlanta campus, which is ranked by NSSE’s competitor, U.S. News and World Report, did not participate in the survey

“This gives us the opportunity to validate our success,” said Kent Linville, Oxford’s dean of academic affairs. “Previously we’ve had to rely on anecdotes. We’re happy for anything to help students and their parents become informed consumers. This is the distillation of two decades of research on undergraduate education.”

According to the NSSE website (www.iub.edu/~nsse/), where the full report is available, the survey assessed the extent to which students engage in educational practices associated with high levels of learning and development. About 60 percent of Oxford’s first-year students took the voluntary survey, which asked quantitative questions like how much reading and writing they have done, qualitative questions like whether other students were friendly and supportive, and general interest questions like whether students had communicated by e-mail with an instructor or engaged in community service.

“It was interesting to see how our anecdotal knowledge was reinforced by the survey, such as the high level of student/faculty interaction,” said Daniel Teodorescu, director of institutional planning and research at Emory. He and Linville worked together to interpret the data after it was received last fall, and Teodorescu has been instrumental in the creation of a website announcing and dissecting the results. That website will be uploaded later this week. (The Oxford website, www.oxford.emory.edu,will link to it).

Created by higher education researchers, NSSE was piloted in 1999, administered fully in 2000. Since then it has been growing not only in numbers of participating institutions, but also in influence. This year’s survey results were culled from more than 267,000 students, and U.S. News has published some of NSSE’s findings in its annual “America’s Best Colleges” issue.

Oxford’s administration couldn’t be happier with the results. “A college is succeeding when it helps students participate actively in their own learning,” said Oxford Dean and CEO Dana Greene. “Historically, Oxford has always done this; now we have the evidence to demonstrate that success.”

The college’s strongest showings were in categories that encompassed student and faculty interaction (both inside and outside the classroom), community service, diversity, extracurricular activity, independent study and advance coursework—all important parts of the Oxford experience.

To find out, Oxford is planning follow-up focus groups with students who took part in the survey (Oxford administrators know who participated but not what they said.). Not only might the focus groups shed light on why some things did not go as planned (such as the comparatively low score in “Supportive Campus Environment”), but they also will reinforce the good things Oxford is doing.

“The survey also can be used developmentally, showing us areas for improvement,” Greene said. “We are delighted to be fostering engaged learning. It’s the only kind of learning that lasts.”






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