Getting an handle on academic rigor

Like most colleges and universities, we believe that we should establish an educationally rigorous environment.  Unlike a lot of colleges and universities, we have a healthy body of quantitative and qualitative evidence from which we can explore, 1) whether this is in fact the case, and 2) whether appropriate academic rigor is experienced by students across the board or only in certain situations.

As you may know, for well over a decade we have been using various assessment mechanisms to measure student learning and academic rigor.  It seems that our efforts to increase our educational effectiveness and academic rigor have borne some fruit – especially on our National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Academic Challenge scores among freshmen.  Those numbers have jumped markedly since we first used NSSE back in 2003.

Yet one of the hallmarks of a college that is truly focused on continual improvement is a perpetual inclination to ask questions, to compare findings with what we might already suspect or know by different means, to face what we uncover, and to take action.

With that in mind – and in light of my perpetual effort to help us all embrace a formative spirit, I’d like to present two data points from the 2006 and 2009 NSSE survey that seem especially worthy of further consideration.

In both 2006 and 2009, Augie students were asked how often they “come to class without completing readings or assignments.” (The response options are 1=Never, 2=Sometimes, 3=Often, and 4=Very Often.)  I would propose that the one thing we would not want to see is that seniors come to class unprepared more often than freshmen.  Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.  And if you were wondering, the difference between the average freshmen and senior response is large enough to be significant.











To add insult to injury, the change from freshmen to senior year looks worse when comparing our 2009 data to other small liberal arts colleges.  In this context, our freshmen actually come to class prepared significantly more often than freshmen at comparable institutions.  However, our seniors come to class prepared significantly less often than seniors at comparable institutions.

Does this match what we already suspect?  Are we ok with it?  How might we address this issue?

Make it a good day,


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