Click to read about the best places to eat on campus, freshman packing tips, and how to keep in touch with friends.

Survey aims to capture a broader view of student life

Students might want to think twice before they indiscriminately trash the flood of junk mail that often inundates their e-mail inboxes.

Amid the spam, there may be a new electronic survey that allows administrators to gauge the overall experience of students and make needed adjustments to improve the learning environment.

For the second time, USF is participating in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a national survey funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts that aims to measure the overall college experience.

Created by Indiana University, the NSSE is offered yearly to all four-year colleges and universities nationwide. It uses the data collected to make comparisons among schools.

With questions that focus on academic life as a whole rather than pure academia, administrators hope to obtain a broader view of the student experience and find out what students do outside the classroom.

“The students are better educated if they are engaged in the University,” said Marvin Moore, research associate at the Office of Academic Assessment (OAA).

Theresa Flateby, director of Assessment of the OAA, said students engaged outside the classroom have a better learning experience and a lower likelihood of dropping out.

The NSSE is given only electronically and is sent via e-mail to approximately 5,000 randomly selected freshmen and seniors. The survey includes roughly 100 questions and statements, and students are asked to rank how well each one applies to them on a number scale.

The main purpose of this survey, Flateby said, is to give “the students an opportunity to express their opinions about their experiences.”

The survey also contains a section that allows students to recommend improvements. If students voice their opinions, Flateby said USF will be able to act on them.

“Part of the purpose is to find areas needing improvement and then to address those areas,” she said. “The main reason for the assessment of anything is improvement. If we find areas of weakness, we want to improve in those areas as quickly as possible.”

According to Moore, information the NSSE gathers will help USF improve the college experience by providing a clear picture of what students get from the University.

“It’s more than just going to class and going home,” he said.

The NSSE also allows USF to compare itself to other peer universities nationwide, such as the University of Central Florida.

After the standardized, nationally required questions, USF provides an additional, voluntary attachment that includes questions about student participation in the arts on campus as performers and observers.

This attachment stems from USF’s inclusion in a consortium created by the University of Florida that focuses on student participation in the arts. The group added the attachment to the NSSE to measure and compare the impact of the arts on campus life within member universities.

The speed of the survey’s impact will depend on the relative importance of the problem it uncovers, Moore said.

“It could be both,” Moore said. “Something could have a serious shortcoming and it would have a quick response, but like most things, the improvement is over time. … For the freshmen that are participating … they’re most likely to see the changes as a result of what they said.”

Moore added that responses from seniors remain important since their suggestions will result in improvements felt by freshmen.