Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU students rate education experiences higher than students at peer institutions, survey shows

Eighty-six percent of surveyed first-year University of Denver students reported a favorable image of the institution, and 79 percent of surveyed seniors would choose DU again if they could start their college career over, according to the 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).     

NSSE’s annual survey results provide diagnostic, comparative information about effective educational practices at participating colleges and universities. The 2010 report details results from a survey of 362,000 students attending 564 U.S. colleges and universities. 

Many of those colleges and universities — including DU — chose to release the results of the survey to USA Today, which includes the results in a searchable database available at

“By participating in NSSE, and making the results readily accessible through the USA Today database, DU is providing parents and prospective students a sense of what they might experience at DU,” says Janette Benson, director of the Office of Academic Assessment and associate professor of psychology. “The survey also provides DU with important information about our strengths and weaknesses so that we can continually examine ways to improve student learning and effective teaching.”

For the sixth consecutive year, DU students rated their education higher than students at peer institutions in four of five benchmark categories: level of academic challenge; active and collaborative learning; student-faculty interaction; and enriching educational experiences.

The survey does not rank the participating institutions; instead it provides a comparison between individual schools and peer and national institutions based on surveys of first-year and senior students. The survey measures DU against three different comparison groups, including all 2010 NSSE participants and a group of institutions with the same Carnegie Foundation classification. 

The final comparison peer group consists of schools within the Carnegie Foundation’s “engaged campus” classification — more than 150 universities whose institutional missions are focused on “curricular engagement” and “outreach and partnerships” with the community. Among the final comparison group are Rutgers, Clemson, Duke, Emory and Tulane.

Student respondents gave the University of Denver particularly high marks on the level of academic challenge, which includes measurements of the type of academic assignments required, the amount of reading and writing expected, and the extent to which faculty hold students to high standards. Eighty-three percent of first-year respondents felt the University places substantial emphasis on academics, and 55 percent said they frequently work harder than they thought they could to meet faculty expectations. 

Respondents also indicated that they are actively involved in their learning, individually and working with others inside and outside the classroom. First-year and senior students all report making frequent presentations in class. According to the report, 62 percent of first-year students frequently discuss readings or ideas from course work outside of class, and by their senior year, 63 percent of students have participated in some form of practicum, internship, field experience, co-op or clinical assignment.

Students also reported a high level of engagement with faculty members. Of seniors who responded, 88 percent said they at least occasionally discuss career plans with faculty, 70 percent of first-year students indicated that they frequently receive prompt verbal or written feedback from faculty members, and 44 percent of first-year respondents said that DU faculty members are available, helpful and sympathetic.  

DU student respondents also indicated that they have many enriching educational experiences at the University. By the time they are seniors, 76 percent of students who completed the NSSE reported that they have participated in community service or volunteer work, and 70 percent of seniors who responded said they have had a study-abroad experience.

The NSSE is sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and is administered by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research in cooperation with the Indiana University Center for Survey Research.

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