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Kenyon Takes Survey to Assess Spectrum of Student Experience

By Grace Hitzeman

In an effort to help the College measure how its students learn and develop, first years and seniors are now taking a new version of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). The survey will remain open until spring break.

Kenyon typically participates in the NSSE every three years rather than every year so that students are not over-surveyed, which is also why only first years and seniors participate.

Kenyon students took the NSSE last year, but the College is participating again this year to utilize the new version of the survey. When students take it again in three years, administrators will be able to compare results to hard data instead of waiting until 2016-2017. “Presenting this information to faculty helps them to understand what we might want to do or change,” Vice President for Library and Information Services Ronald Griggs said.

The survey measures student engagement, which, according to the NSSE, is comprised of a measure of factors on a college campus that contribute to student learning. “They’re not trying to figure out how much you actually learn, but really trying to survey how students experience the practices of the College,” said Erika Farfan, Kenyon’s director of institutional research.

These factors include a wide range of student experiences, from the classroom to extracurricular activities to religious life. Last year’s survey found that 13 percent of Kenyon first years frequently participate in spiritual activities like worship, meditation and prayer, according to the Kenyon website.

The regular NSSE poll has been in place since 2000, and the survey itself has remained unchanged since 2005, when Kenyon first started taking it, so that institutions can compare results from year to year. The new survey will experiment with new “modules” or “themes” of questions, implementing suggestions from colleges that have participated in the survey.

“The nice thing about doing a national survey is that we do get information about what other [Great Lakes Colleges Association] colleges are doing as a group or what the entire survey population is doing,” Farfan said. This knowledge allows Kenyon to stay on top of rising trends in higher education. For example, “service learning has become really interesting,” Farfan said. “We know that we are not doing as much service learning as other institutions … and that’s a discussion we need to have.”

The survey also provides the College with concrete numbers on trends. “We know a lot about what happens in student life just from anecdotal evidence, and that’s great, but it’s really hard to summarize anecdotal evidence into trends that are happening, especially when you compare to other colleges,” Farfan said.

Last year’s survey results, for example, showed that “66 percent of first-year students spend more than 15 hours per week preparing for class, while 4 percent spend five hours or less,” according to the Kenyon website.

Griggs also referenced the trend that first-year students give the College high ratings for “supportive campus environment,” but those ratings decrease when they are seniors. Similarly, in last year’s survey, 11 percent of seniors reported that they would not have chosen Kenyon again if they could restart their college careers, according to the Kenyon website.

A concrete example of a change enacted due to NSSE results “is in the curriculum there are a lot more opportunities for experiential learning,” Griggs said. “Experiential learning can be a lot of different things, but might involve internships or classes that go out into the community to do studies.”

By their senior year, 61 percent of students participate in some form of practicum, internship, field experience, co-op or clinical assignment, while 39 percent of students do research with faculty members, according to last year’s survey results on the Kenyon website.

Unlike other surveys at Kenyon, the NSSE survey will not include an incentive. “There are some strict rules,” Farfan said. “It’s run out of Indiana University Bloomington, and you have to approve anything you do through that review board.” The College encourages students to participate because the survey is integral to the administration’s understanding of the student experience. The results of the survey go to the Office of the Provost, where administrators use them to discuss changes in curriculum and potential changes to Housing and Residential policies. “Research suggests experiences that students have on campus can positively affect how engaged they become in their academic experience,” Farfan said. “That engagement helps students to get the most out of their time in college.”

For more Kenyon NSSE results, visit www.kenyon.edu/x51627.xml.

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