Building on our advising success

A week or so ago, I was talking with one faculty member about the information that we now receive as a result of the IDEA student ratings of instruction reports.  During that conversation, our focus kept drifting toward the recommendations for improvement.  Although this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, we began to notice together how evidence of success can be just as important.  Not only can it help confirm that our efforts are bearing some fruit, but it can also remind us to continue to “play to our strengths.”

With this in mind, I’d like to highlight some findings about our students’ experience with advising that I believe add to our rationale for considering ways in which we might further improve our students advising experience.

Every year we ask our graduating seniors about their satisfaction with advising overall and in advising in the primary major on a scale of 1 to 5.  Below are the average scores from last spring (2011).


Average Score

Standard Deviation

Overall Advising



Major Advising




It turns out that there are two interesting tidbits in this data.  First, the difference between satisfaction with overall advising and major advising is statistically significant – meaning that the difference between the two average scores is not attributable to chance.  Second, the difference in the standard deviation (the average gap between each student response to these questions and the overall average response) suggests that there is more variability of experiences in major advising than overall advising.

At this point you might be thinking, “Mark, that is a strange interpretation of playing to our strengths!”  To which I say – hold on for just a second.  Remember that our response scale of 1 – 5 defines “4” as satisfied . . . which means that on average both groups are relatively satisfied.  If you compare these numbers to our NSSE data on advising, it turns out that our students respond much higher than the NSSE average – both for freshmen and for seniors.

In the context of these two data points, I am most interested in asking whether we might have other data that suggests a relative strength in advising that we might expand upon to both improve our students’ average major advising score AND tighten the variability in across that experience.

I think we might have just such a data point in another section of the NSSE survey.  Students are asked earlier in the survey how often they talk about career plans with a faculty member or advisor (1=never, 2=sometimes, 3=often, 4=very often).



Comparable Liberal Arts Colleges








It appears that our faculty and staff advisors are already talking with advisees about their career plans substantially more often than advisors and faculty at comparable liberal arts colleges.  Since we know from our self-study of advising that this efforts makes a substantial difference in the degree to which our students feel certain about their post-graduate plans, it appears to me that this is something that we are doing very well and could build upon to strengthen our students advising experience in the major.

Have a wonderful week and a great holiday break.

Make it a good day.


One way to look at our students’ spiritual development

Last week Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, spoke to many of us at either convocation or in a series of other meetings about the importance of embracing an inclusive tradition of faith – no matter the faith tradition we each might choose to follow.  His comments and questions spurred some intriguing conversation that got me wondering about the degree to which our students develop a more nuanced notion of their own spirituality during their time at Augustana so that they might be aware enough to make such a choice within their own faith tradition.

Before examining our data to see what we might have that begins to address this question, we have to accept a nagging ambiguity (and this time, it’s not all that delicious).  The term “spirituality” isn’t so easily defined.  Instead, it’s a term that tends to mean different things to different people.  For some, it’s inexorably tied to religious faith, maybe even dogma.  For others, it simply applies to an acceptance of things beyond our current understanding.  For most, it’s somewhere in between.

This makes the life of a number cruncher a little messy.  On the one hand, it turns out that we have two interesting data points on this question of spirituality.  The NSSE survey asks students:

1)     During the current school year, about how often have you participated in activities to enhance your spirituality (worship, meditation, prayer, etc.)?  The response options are 1=never, 2=sometimes, 3=often, 4=very often


Freshmen – 2.01; Seniors – 2.01

(both responses are significantly lower than comparable liberal arts colleges)


2)     To what extent has your experience at this institution helped you develop a deepened sense of spirituality?

The response options are 1=very little, 2=some, 3=quite a bit, 4=very much


Freshmen – 2.27; Seniors – 1.99

(both responses are significantly lower than comparable liberal arts colleges)


On the other hand, both questions focus on the word “spirituality,” suggesting that student responses could differ based upon their conceptualization of this term.  Nonetheless, while we might not have a precise finding from the perspective of a social scientist, we definitely have something that – from the perspective of creating optimal learning conditions and assessing student growth – begs for further inquiry.

The responses to these two questions are quite interesting to me.  In my mind they triangulate with the larger narrative we hold that sees our students as strivers.  They tend to be focused on getting a job or getting into graduate school and involving themselves in every possible activity that will help them achieve their goal.  Yet, this breakneck pace can all too often occur at the expense of our responsibility as educators to develop the whole person.

If we want our students to embrace an inclusive perspective on their own faith tradition – be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Mormon, or Humanist – while also embracing a commitment to social justice rather (than an apathetic descent into rationalized relativism), then I suggest that we would do well to dig deeper into the following three questions.

  • Why are our students relatively less engaged in their own spiritual development than students at comparable liberal arts colleges (however students choose to define spirituality)?
  • Why do our students think that their experience at Augustana has contributed relatively less to the development of their own sense of spirituality than students at comparable liberal arts colleges?
  • Are the answers to these first two questions related?


Make it a good day.