Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

First-year student surveys aim to evaluate University programs

While first-year students were learning what the University of Denver expects of them during this year’s Discoveries orientation, the University was using a new assessment tool to learn what students expect of DU.

Volunteer proctors from Student Life and the Office of Academic Assessment attended 80 first-year seminars during the first weeks of classes to administer the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE). The purpose of the survey — a companion to the long-administered National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) — is to measure first-year students’ pre-college academic and co-curricular experiences and determine their expectations for college.

The new survey instrument asks students about their high school experiences, probes their expectations and beliefs regarding their first year of college and surveys certain background characteristics that might influence their college careers. Based on the theory that student engagement leads to better student outcomes, students are asked about study habits, high school activities, work involvement and scholarship.

“It’s going to tell us more about our students,” says Janette Benson, director of the Office of Academic Assessment.

Benson is coordinating the survey and plans a longitudinal study of this year’s freshmen cohort. Her office will capture data at the start and the end of their first year and annually through their senior year. BCSSE data will be compared with NSSE data and other academic measures to determine how their early expectations and continual engagement throughout their college career translate into academic performance.

“We continually seek to identify ways to improve student persistence to graduation,” says Jo Calhoun, associate provost for Student Life. “We hope from these assessments we learn more about how to engage students in ways that are meaningful to them.”

Such data, she says, will allow the University to evaluate student programs geared to improving scholarship, retention, engagement and diversity — all part of DU’s mission. The ongoing survey efforts will also support DU’s current accreditation effort, which concludes three years from now with a site visit by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. Its peer review team will review DU’s self study, which will include the BCSSE and NSSE data, before recommending accreditation.

“Everything we do should be mission driven,” Benson says, “not just for accreditation, but to provide the best education possible for our students.”

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