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The Beloit experience: What we learned and what's next 

February 10, 2017 at 12:28 pm
By Will Tomer'17

Students were recently asked to complete a survey of 20 questions about their experiences at Beloit College. According to Director of Strategic Research and Assessment Ellie Anderbyrne, the meticulously crafted survey has provided us all with a lot of fascinating insights into life at Beloit College.

 

How were the questions selected?

The questions were selected through a process that included community input (including the major committees and trustees) and a review of higher education research.

How many respondents were there?

818 students responded; 63 percent of our degree-seeking students responded (the term “degree seeking students” excludes Porter Scholar high school students, staff and family taking classes, and exchange students).

 What did the answers reveal?

The answers were really revealing, in both good ways and bad! In great news, 98 percent of students agreed that they they had a faculty or staff member who made them excited about learning, 97 percent agreed they had a professor or staff person who challenges them, and 90 percent  agreed they had a professor or staff person who cares about them. These are amazing results! They show that our students are getting some of the things that are most important to a good college experience.

Some of the results are positive in that they confirm for us the growth that we predict for students in the liberal arts in practice developmental model. For example, when you look at the number of first years, sophomores, juniors, and seniors who say they have had an internship or job that allowed them to apply what they were learning in the classroom, you really see it grow for students over time. That's what we'd expect. It's not reasonable to expect every student to say they've had that kind of experience from their very first semester--it's definitely something we want to see increasing over time.

Some results are puzzling. For example, if you look at all the metrics that we expect all students to experience all years, the area with the lowest agreement is about a sense of belonging. Just under 60 percent of students agreed that they feel a sense of belonging to this campus.

We're really curious what drives those results — what factors lead 6 out of 10 students to agree, and 4 out of 10 students not to? What does "sense of belonging" mean to students? Is it about their relationships with other students? With faculty and staff? Are they thinking about belonging in the classroom? Or belonging in the residence halls? Or something else entirely? It's very hard to begin finding ways to improve things until we know more about why they are the way they are. We already have work underway to try to answer some of these "why" questions — Chen Bao is doing an Honors Term this semester in which she’s training students to conduct focus groups to dig deeper into the results. Students can sign up for focus groups.


How will the responses be used by the college?

So many ways, not all of them known yet!  One way is accountability: the metrics are one read on whether the college is giving students the kinds of experiences we aim to be giving them. In all directions -- from students to trustees -- by seeing over time and also for subgroups of students whether students are having the experiences we aspire for them to have. If not, we should know that and do something about it.

Another way they will be used is to orient us around the same ideas so we are all working to serve students in the same way.  For example, these metrics allow folks working in such varied areas as food service, athletics, and communications and marketing to all feel that they know what it is we're aiming for students to have here at Beloit.  Marketing is another way these metrics might be used, though I wouldn't say it's the primary one  — marketing to prospective students that these are the experiences we are aiming for students to have at Beloit, and being able to show how well we do on those things — is likely to be valuable.