And they’re off!
It’s always a good thing when you can wear short sleeves, slacks, and sandals on the first day of winter term! (I know nobody uses the word “slacks” any more, but I couldn’t resist the alliteration.)
Welcome back and good luck with the start of your winter term. It was a pretty quiet break with nothing really going on . . . oh yeah, except for that.
Nonetheless, the IR office has finally finished putting together our two big reports from last year’s (2015-2016) Senior Survey data and First Year Survey(s) data. These reports are both linked on the IR web page, so please help yourself to an overflowing spoonful of mean scores, standard deviations, frequency distributions, and bar graphs! (I know! So exciting.) It’s a veritable smorgasbord of quantitative delectables.
In particular, if you scroll past the first nine pages of the 15-16 First Year Survey(s) Report, our student worker Katrina Friedrich create a table that highlights the statistically significant predictor variables of seven different intended outcomes of the first year:
- I feel a strong sense of belonging on campus.
- Over the past academic year, I have developed a better sense of who I am and where I want my life to go.
- If you could relive your college decisions, would you choose Augustana again?
- During the year I got better at balancing my academic with my out-of-class activities.
- I am certain that my choice of majors(s) is a good fit for who I am right now.
- How often did you push yourself to work harder on an assignment even though the extra effort wouldn’t necessarily improve your grade?
- I found myself thinking about what I am learning in my classes even when I’m not in class or studying.
Although I’m sure we will spend more time this year digging into the various findings highlighted in this table, this post wouldn’t be complete without at least one guided exploration into one of the predictor variables that just keeps popping up. So today I thought we’d kick it up a notch “Bam!” by exploring the backstory of one pesky predictor variable for first year students:
- “Reflecting on the past year, I can think of specific experiences or conversations that helped me clarify my life/career goals.” (response options ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree)
This item turned out to be the only variable that significantly predicted all seven of the outcome variables. (For all of you who gobbled up the nerd salad a long time ago, each of our regression equations included controls for race, gender, socioeconomic status, and pre-college academic preparation). So the next question seems pretty important: What specific experience(s) might statistically predict students’ ability to recall specific experience of conversations that helped them clarify life/career goals?
Just like the analyses that Katrina conducted to produce the initial table of results, to run a reasonably legitimate test I build a regression equation that took into account race, gender, socioeconomic status, and pre-college academic preparation. The basic reason to include these variables at the outset is to allow us to say with confidence that our findings apply to all students regardless of differences that might exist across those four demographic characteristics.
Then I added nine variables that might be relevant considering what other researchers have found about what might help a student find some clarity of purpose. The items I chose to add to this analysis are:
- My first year adviser asked about my career goals and post-graduate aspirations.
- My first year adviser connected me with other campus resources to help me thrive in college
- My first year adviser recommended specific on-campus activities to help me make the most of my college career.
- My first year adviser pushed me to think about choosing courses as more that just checking boxes.
- My out-of-class experiences involved me in community service off-campus.
- My out-of-class experiences helped me connect what I learned in the classroom with real-life events.
- How often did your instructors ask you to apply your learning to address societal problems or issues?
- My on-on-one interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my intellectual growth and interest in ideas.
- Symposium Day activities influenced the way that I now think about real world issues.
Would you like to venture a guess which items popped (not the technical term, I know, but I’m trying to encourage some new slang amongst my people)?
Listed from largest to smallest effect size, these three items produced statistically significant positive effects.
- One-one-one interactions with faculty positively influenced intellectual growth and interest in ideas.
- Out-of-class experiences helped connect classroom learning with real-life events.
- First year adviser recommended specific on-campus activities that would help make the most of one’s college career.
Refreshingly, these findings suggest that all of us can play a potentially key role in helping our first year students clarify their life and career goals. If you interact with students in a faculty role, then look for ways to create one-on-one interactions that engage substantive questions. If you interact with students outside the classroom, look for ways to help them connect their academic learning with real world events. And if you interact with students as an adviser, then make the effort to identify and recommend specific on-campus activities that align with, and might even augment, your student’s post-graduate aspirations and college goals.
Although we can’t guarantee that a student makes the most of their college experience, we can increase the odds that he or she chooses the behaviors and activities that will point them in the right direction. And if we keep it up long enough, we will likely be a pretty damn good choice for the students who are lucky enough to come here.
Make it a good day,