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Survey Looks at Student Engagement, How K-12 Can Help

If students are going to get those all-important college degrees, they need to be engaged on campus. That's why the results of the 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement released today are good for educators and policymakers to consider.

Now in its 10th year, the NSSE measures the amount of time and effort students put into their studies and educational activities, as well as how colleges are providing resources to support those activities. It includes the responses of 362,000 first-year students and seniors attending 564 U.S. colleges and universities. The research looks at levels of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment.

This year's analysis shows that involvement in educational activities, such as internships, service learning, and research with faculty, varies considerably by major.

For example, having internships or practicum experiences were most common among journalism and education majors and least common among senior accounting and business majors. Nursing and physical education majors are significantly more likely to engage in service learning than math and physics majors. About one-third of psychology majors did research with a faculty member outside of class requirements—while other majors averaged 19 percent.

Students who engaged in learning activities with their peers were more likely to participate in other effective educational practices and had more positive views of the campus learning environment, the survey reveals.

What is the takeaway for the K-12 community? There are some interesting findings from the companion Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (with more than 8,000 entering students from 126 institutions) that speak to the transition issues from high school to college:

-The very students most likely to need academic support are the ones who see it as less important. The BCSSE found first-year students who were in the bottom half on self-described preparation for college and who anticipated academic difficulty rated the importance of academic support services lower than their better prepared and more confident peers.

This underscores the need for better awareness of resources and outreach, says Jillian Kinze, associate director at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research that conducted the survey. High school teachers can help by talking with students about the importance of seeking out faculty support when they don't understand something or the value of using writing centers. Teachers can speak to the importance of connecting with resources and even require college-bound students to learn about support services at nearby campuses as part of an assignment, suggests Kinze.

-Students who were involved in co-curricular activities during their senior year of high school entered college with higher expectations and aspirations. About 75 percent of freshmen were very certain that they would persist at their current institution. However, students with no high school involvement in co-curricular activities were less certain that they would persist compared with those who participated in such activities. Nonparticipants were also less confident that they will earn A's in college or earn a degree beyond a baccalaureate.

In high school, Kinze encourages teachers to talk up the value of study-abroad experiences and internships. Involvement in community service often drops off from high school to college. However, if high school teachers and counselors can encourage graduating seniors to find out about ways to plug in early on a college campus to volunteer opportunities, they may be more likely to stay engaged, says Kinze.

These survey results, if reviewed by campus leaders, staff, and faculty, can lead to enhanced student experiences on campus, according to Alexander C. McCormick, the director of the National Survey of Student Engagement and an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Education. "While many campuses are indeed taking action based on what they learn from NSSE and other projects, many others seem to get stuck making the transition from results to action. We need to get unstuck," wrote McCormick in the survey report.

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