Jan. 21, 2010

Strengths of an ISU education: learning communities, internships, service

by Anne Krapfl

In a 2009 national survey of university students' assessment of their own educational experiences, Iowa State students reported higher participation in learning communities, internships, community service, study abroad, team assignments completed outside of class time and research projects with faculty than did students nationally. Conversely, Iowa State students reported fewer incidents of "serious conversations with students of another race or ethnicity," writing papers and studying a foreign language than the national averages in those categories.

2009 marked Iowa State's eighth participation in the 10-year-old National Survey of Student Engagement. ISU didn't participate in 2000 or 2004. The survey features approximately 85 questions and is administered to freshman and senior undergraduates. At Iowa State, 520 freshmen (21 percent of the class) and 608 seniors (24 percent) responded to an invitation last February to participate in the 2009 survey. It is sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and administered by the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University. The results are intended to help universities increase student engagement and improve learning.

The questions are assigned to one of five clusters as a way to measure effective undergraduate practices. The five are:

  • Academic challenge
  • Active and collaborative learning
  • Student-faculty interaction
  • Enriching educational experiences
  • Supportive campus environment

Incremental improvement

According to survey analysts, Iowa State has recorded upward trends among both freshmen and seniors in all five clusters over the course of its participation in the NSSE.

NSSE benchmark trends

Area Lowest response* Highest response*
Academic challenge
Seniors 50.5 (2001) 54.8 (2009)
Freshmen 48.0 (2005) 51.5 (2009)
Active and collaborative learning
Seniors 45.4 (2003) 50.6 (2009)
Freshmen 35.8 (2001) 42.2 (2009)
Student-faculty interaction
Seniors 38.6 (2003) 43.5 (2009)
Freshmen 32.0 (2003) 37.4 (2009)
Enriching educational experiences**
Seniors 38.6 (2006) 42.7 (2009)
Freshmen 27.8 (2007) 30.4 (2009)
Supportive campus environment
Seniors 52.1 (2001) 57.4 (2009)
Freshmen 57.6 (2005) 63.3 (2009)
*Weighted average of the student scores
** Due to change in response options, data from 2004 and earlier not comparable

Associate provost for academic programs David Holger said Iowa State leaders decided to begin to participate every other year in the NSSE. He cited the cost (approximately $10,000) and small changes in data over one year as reasons for the change.

A dozen slides summarizing Holger's presentation Jan. 10 are online at the President's Council web site.