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College Students Missing Opportunity to Use Academic Advisers as Resources

Educators and policymakers looking for answers about how to solve the college completion challenge may want to take a look at results of the new National Survey of Student Engagement released Thursday.

Just 40 percent of college students say they turn to their adviser as their primary source of academic advice, the 2013 survey of 335,000 seniors on 568 four-year college campuses shows. About one-third of freshman and 18 percent of seniors said they went to friends or family first for academic advice, and another 18 percent of seniors turned to faculty members for guidance. This reliance on sources other than academic advise is concerning given the importance advising plays in student learning and success, the report said.

Support from faculty can also play a role in helpings students stay on track. Students who were attending full-time, lived on campus, or attended smaller schools interacted most often with faculty members, compared with online students or those enrolled in colleges with more than 10,000 students, according to the latest NSSE.

First-year students who participated a learning community, service-learning experience, or research with a faculty member reported greater gains in knowledge and skills, and more satisfaction with their entire educational experience and college choice. Students who incorportated learning straregies, such as taking notes when reading, summarizing and organizing new information, reported earning better grades, according to the survey results.

Off-campus, transfer, adult, veteran and part-time students said in the survey they found the campus environment less supportive than their peers did. With just 25 percent of college students fitting the traditional profile of being a full-time resident, some experts argue that colleges need to adapt to the new demographic shifts on campus if the country is going to move the needle on college completion.

The survey also covered students' study habits and discovered, on average, student spend 14 to 15 hours a week preparing for class—half of that is on assigned reading. Study time was closer to 18 hours for engineering majors and 12 hours for those in communications.

Just 61 percent of seniors and 55 percent of freshmen surveyed said their courses "challenged them to do their best work." Those who were challenged reported having more writing and reading assignment and being pushed to explore the material in deeper ways using higher-order learning.

In its 15th year, NSSE updated its survey this year adding new questions about advising, learning strategies and other issues to reflect current campus concerns.

New to the 2013 survey were questions about students' use of teacher evaluations. Two-thirds of students believed that end-of-course evaluations allowed them to give feedback that matters most to them about a course. About one-third of freshmen and one-quarter of seniors evaluted their professors through outside organzations, such as ratemyprofessors.com, and about half of all students said they used these sites when selecting courses.

Since 2000, more than 1,500 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada have participated in NSSE. The survey is administered online and participating institutions generally mirror the national distribution of college classificiations of research, master's and baccalaureate institutions. Details about the methodology are available the NSSE website. The average institutional response rate in 2013 was 30 percent.

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