BY KRISTEN KELLEHER
Every year, the University of Mary Washington distributes thousands of surveys to gage their transition between freshman and senior year.
On Feb. 3, UMW e-mailed over 2,000 surveys to current freshman and seniors to participate in the National Survey of Student Engagements’ annual survey.
The survey, distributed to over 600 colleges and universities in 2009 in the United States and Canada, aims to study how undergraduates spend their time academically and what they have or have not gained from their college experiences.
The survey bases its questions on five basic benchmarks that each focus on a different aspect of the student learning experience. The questions look at the student/faculty interaction, the supportive campus environment, the level of academic challenge, the active and collaborative learning, and enriching educational experiences.
These topics explore issues such as whether the campus environment is conducive to learning, how often the student interacts with students of different races, religions and values in class, and how much time students spend preparing material outside of class.
The student feedback is collected and utilized by the national survey, but the survey data is also reviewed by UMW. UMW makes changes depending on where the surveys indicate that improvement is needed.
The addition of the freshman seminars, the incorporation of more student services in Lee Hall and an increasing effort for campus-wide diversity have all been implemented as a result of past survey feedback, according to Martin Wilder, dean of enrollment and student services.
The school’s new general education requirements and the addition of the experiential learning requirement have all been added after consideration of the feedback, John Morello, the associate provost, said.
The survey data is reviewed several times by the university dean and the department chairs, in addition to other faculty members and the academic and student affairs staff, often with surprising results.
“It initially surprised me that our students did not always find our administrative offices and personnel as helpful and supportive as we would expect,” Wilder said. “We have worked very hard in recent years to try and improve this area.”
The issue is one that President Hample addressed in her State of the University speech on Nov. 17, 2008, when she outlined her vision for the university, and reviewed her strategic plan for Mary Washington.
“As we know from NSSE, the Princeton Review, and other sources, the perception of too many of our students is that we have an unresponsive bureaucracy and administration, too many rules, paperwork, and roadblocks,” she said during the address. “This perception is a comment on the students’ broader experience of our institutional culture – a culture we need to change. We need to rededicate ourselves to establishing what has been and should be the foundation of the UMW experience, a student centered culture across all areas of the university.”
Students have expressed similar concern with student and administration communication, and with the recent expansion of a third campus.
Junior Hunter Smith said the university “seems kind of distant from the student population and doesn’t seem to have an open course for dialogue about the changes the school is making.”
Another topic the survey may address is confusion about degree requirements. Sophomore Lea McLaughun said she felt that the course catalogue is very unclear, and that it would be helpful if the school created a single listing that showed classes that would fill specific requirements.
Feedback from students from the survey also has been considered in attempting to solve the school’s administrative issues.
The UMW Strategic Plan for 2009 to 2014 lists a plan for instituting and continuing a campus-wide customer service initiative.
This spring will be the fifth time that the university has participated in the survey since 2003, Wilder said.
Although the university has already made improvements in each of the five areas, according to Wilder, the university remains committed to using student feedback to make even more changes.
“Right now, I am most hopeful that a large number of students will complete the survey,” Wilder said. “Since it goes out to our students via e-mail, I hope students will open it and will fill out the survey. It is critically important that we get a high response rate. This is a great opportunity for students to tell us how they feel about the UMW experience–what we’re doing well and what we can improve.”