The University Record, April 23, 2001

Cantor: Students give U-M high marks for academic challenges in 2000 survey

By Mary Jo Frank, Office of the Vice President for Communications,
and Joel Seguine, News and Information Services

“Our students expect a great deal of us, we expect a great deal of them, and for the most part, we both deliver,” declared Provost Nancy Cantor in a recent presentation to the Regents about student views on the state of undergraduate education at the U-M.

Citing results from the 2000 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and other surveys that track how well the U-M serves it students, Cantor said, “There is a good deal of evidence that the University we see—a great public, research university filled with academic challenge and an astonishing diversity of academic and cultural opportunities—is the same University our students see, both as they choose to enroll here and after they leave.”

The NSSE, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, collected responses from 63,000 first-year students and seniors from 276 institutions (including 45 other doctoral extensive universities) in March 2000. The NSSE measures to what extent students are engaged with the institutions that they attend: How hard do they work, how much are they challenged, how intensive and productive is their learning experience, and how supportive is the campus environment?

NSSE focuses on what the institution does to encourage engagement, Cantor explained. “We don’t simply want to be a place of passive learning—filling up their heads. We want to be a place that helps transform our students’ understanding and appreciation of the world.”

The U-M scores very high on measures of academic challenge, Cantor said. “Characteristically, our students work harder than those at other doctoral extensive universities, with a substantial majority spending more than 16 hours a week preparing for class.” They have more reading assignments and papers as well, she noted.

The University also scores high on promoting teamwork and developing communication skills. First-year student seminars, LS&A learning centers and theme semesters are a few of the programs that encourage students to learn to work with others.

Student interaction with faculty members is an area where the U-M and peer institutions need to improve, Cantor said. By the time they graduate, two-thirds of U-M seniors have had close contact with a faculty member, working together on research, artistic or service projects. Many students have had multiple experiences working closely with faculty, and 60 percent of seniors are “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their contact with faculty.

“We need to do more to increase interaction with faculty outside the classroom, especially for first-year students, as do all large research universities,” Cantor said. “This is one of the areas to be addressed in the upcoming report by our Undergraduate Commission.”

One of the areas where the U-M excels is in offering enriching educational experiences, including exposure to diversity and technology. “We provide an extraordinary set of experiences that enrich the overall educational experience, as perceived by both our first-year students and our seniors,” Cantor said.

“More than 90 percent of seniors tell us that it is important for them to get along with diverse people, and 86 percent say that it is important to understand different cultures. Our recent graduates report that during their time at Michigan they learned to interact with different people and enhanced their interpersonal skills.”

In addition, she said, “Graduating seniors appreciate the quality of our libraries, labs and computing resources and emphasize the importance of computing proficiency in their overall education.”

Research has shown that students perform better and are more satisfied at universities that cultivate positive working and social relations. The U-M is in the top quarter for first-year students and the 62nd percentile for seniors in the NSSE benchmark gauging the supportiveness of the campus environment. The loss of relative position may reflect the fact that most first-year students live on campus and seniors do not, Cantor said.

When seniors are asked to evaluate their overall experience, the U-M rates well above other doctoral extensive institutions (3.37 on a 4-point scale). When seniors were asked whether they would do it all again, the U-M scored 3.41 on a 4-point scale, where three was “probably yes” and four was “definitely yes.”

Students are ambitious when they come to the U-M and ambitious when they leave, Cantor said. As first-year students, more than 92 percent plan to obtain an advanced degree. Surveys have shown that six to nine years after graduation, 65 percent are either in graduate school or have earned an advanced degree. “We are at the very top in the percentage of students who go on to law and medical school,” Cantor noted.

Cantor concluded by noting that NSSE is “providing the University with a snapshot of our excellence—a challenging, diverse place with a huge variety of offerings and enriching opportunities for engagement—and guiding us in the direction of areas for focus.”