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OHIO selected for student engagement study

Late in fall quarter Ohio University received an invitation to participate in the project, "Learning to Improve: A Study of Evidence-Based Improvement in Higher Education," funded by the Spencer Foundation and conducted by researchers from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).  

The project involves an investigation of sixty institutions that have shown a pattern over time of improved performance in their NSSE results for the purposes of identifying the activities that produced these results and of drawing lessons to inform other campuses' improvement efforts. Ohio University was invited to participate in the project because its first-year and senior students reported significantly increased levels of engagement that were higher than those of its six peer institutions and that compared favorably with the forty-nine institutions in its Carnegie Class, a system to determine peer-type institutions.  

Early in winter quarter more than forty faculty, staff and students met with two researchers affiliated with the project to discuss how Ohio University achieved such significant gains in first-year and senior students' reported levels of engagement. During these meetings, it was announced that Ohio University, because of its impressive gains in student engagement, would be one the eight schools out of the original sixty that will be included in the book based on the project findings.  

Ohio University has participated in the NSSE survey since 2002 and has used the survey results to improve student services and the overall student experience. NSSE has five Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice, which are used by participating institutions as measures to gauge performance and to guide improvement initiatives:

  • Level of Academic Challenge LAC)

  • Active/Collaborative Learning (ACL)

  • Student-faculty interaction (SFI)

  • Enriching Educational Experiences (EEE)

  • Supportive Campus Environment (SCE)

The engagement results for senior students have been strong since 2002, but initial results for first-year students were not so positive and led to concerted and collaborative work on improvement that is now paying dividends.

David Descutner, dean of University College and executive vice provost for undergraduate education, noted, "We launched a systematic, campus-wide campaign in 2004 to enhance the first-year experience that involved more than fifty colleagues from all across campus. We read the national literature on high-impact practices, participated in the Foundations of Excellence national project focused on improving the first-year, and worked diligently to improve orientation and set high expectations for our new students. We set out and succeeded in our efforts to expand learning communities, to strengthen advising and other student support services, to bolster our already effective peer education programs, and to reinforce our already robust partnerships, among other related initiatives."  

One indispensable partner for this long-term NSSE work, and for all of the University's continuous improvement initiatives, has been the Office of Institutional Research. Among the notable findings, that Joni Wadley, associate director for academic and student assessment, gleaned from the 2011 survey results are:

  • Ohio University's senior respondents report significantly higher levels of engagement on four of the five NSSE benchmarks (LAC, ACL, SFI, EEE) than do senior respondents from our peer institutions.

  • Ohio University first-year respondents compare favorably with first-year respondents from peer institutions and report higher levels of engagement on all benchmarks except one (SCE).

  • Ohio University's first-year and respondents report significantly more SFI than do first-year and senior respondents at peer institutions.

  • Ohio University provides an engaging, value-added educational experience, as evidenced by first-year respondents reporting increased levels of engagement since 2002 and senior respondents reporting significantly higher levels of engagement than senior respondents at peer institutions.

"We have many strengths here at Ohio University, but our signature strength is our extraordinary, student-centered faculty and specifically their dedication to challenge and support our students inside and outside the classroom," observed Descutner. "The five benchmarks focus largely on academic practices and measures, and all across campus we have academic and support staff who complement the faculty's innovative and effective teaching, advising and mentoring."

Descutner then continued, "Other key reasons for these gains are the successful programs and offices such as the Allen Student Help Center that have been launched since 2004, along with the terrific peer education programs associated with many of the colleges and Student Affairs."  

The attachment that Ohio University students and recent alumni feel to their alma mater is partly attributable to some of these efforts.

"When all is said and done, what makes Ohio University special is that so many individuals from every unit on campus care so deeply about our students and work so diligently to achieve continuous improvement and to ensure that all students have abundant opportunities to realize their scholarly and civic promise," said Descutner.