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Colleges' Selectivity Not Linked to Higher Engagement, Survey Shows

When choosing where to apply to college, a new survey indicates students should not pin their hopes on an elite or small institution leading to a better student experience or tighter connections with faculty.

The results released Thursday of the  2014 National Survey of Student Engagement, which polls 355,000 freshmen and seniors at four-year colleges, finds little relationship between selectivity of a college and how much students are engaged or feel positively about interaction with faculty.

"Conventional wisdom holds that more-selective institutions provide superior educational experiences," according to the report. "These findings call into question the notion that attending a more-selective institution assures a superior educational experience; institutions with lower selectivity profiles can and often do offer experiences with faculty that are at least comparable to those at more-selective institutions."

Private schools may have more resources, but the report indicates that large, open-access institutions can provide rich college experiences. However, research from the National Student Clearinghouse this week shows completion gaps by type of institution. While about 74 percent of students at private, nonprofit four-year institutions graduate in six years, 63 percent of those attending public, four-year schools do so in the same time frame.

So what sets a school apart? Rather than enrollment or selectivity, the report notes that the top-performing schools had an institutional culture with a commitment to student success and responsibility for that success that was placed on the college and its staff. "There was an inclusive approach to promoting and supporting student success and graduation. It was not viewed as simply a student responsibility," wrote Murial Howard, the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, in a foreward to the report.

The average student's experience can vary considerably from one institution to the next, even among institutions of comparable size and selectivity, notes the survey director in the report. The range in findings demonstrate an institution's performance need not be limited by the students it serves.

The comprehensive new engagement survey also included an optional poll about college advising, in which 127,000 students participated. It discovered that in their first year on campus, 9 percent of students never met with an adviser, 23 percent met with one once, and about one in three had more than two meetings with an academic adviser. Those who met rarely with an adviser indicated they were most likely to turn to family members or friends instead for advice. First-year students who met more often with academic advisers reported feeling stronger academic, social, and personal support on campus.


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