NSSE Survey Shows Bethany College Freshmen, Seniors Outperform Peers

Results Confirm College’s Reputation as a High-Quality Learning Environment

BETHANY, W.Va. –Bolstering Bethany College’s mission as a small campus of academic rigor, strong student engagement and outcomes, Bethany freshmen and seniors are outperforming selected peers in key benchmarked questions. These results, just released from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) for the 2010-2011 academic year, validate the College’s reputation as a highly effective undergraduate institution of national distinction, said Dr. Scott D. Miller, President of the College.

“These data — in which Bethany students scored from nine to 32 percentage points higher than students attending similar peer institutions in these selected areas — provide quantifiable insights into the qualities that make the Bethany campus an effective learning environment,” Dr. Miller said. “They tell families, students and prospective students that our faculty and co-curricular staff are doing their job as part of a close-knit community in a liberal arts institution; providing a flexible, personalized and intellectually challenging environment for our students to learn inside — and outside — the classroom.”

Approximately three-quarters of Bethany students questioned responded that they have written at least one paper or report of 20 pages or more and have completed foreign language coursework. More than half indicated that they spend five hours or more per week participating in co-curricular activities. Approximately half of first-year students responded that they have written more than four papers or reports between five and 19 pages, and 45 percent of seniors indicated that they have done an independent study or self-designed major.

Data Help to Inform College Selection Process

President Miller believes the findings are significant because they are based upon what students themselves are saying about their Bethany experience. “As families and high school upperclassmen begin the college selection process, it is imperative that they start by asking the right questions,” Dr. Miller said. “This data and accompanying pocket guidebook will assist them in demystifying that process.”

The survey provides comparative standards for assessing effective educational practices in higher education in five key areas: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences and supportive campus environment.

Questions for first-year students measured reading, written papers and reports, involvement with faculty and co-curricular activities. Seniors were asked about the opportunities available to work with faculty members on activities other than coursework, completion of foreign language coursework, independent study or self-designed majors, spending more than five hours per week participating in co-curricular activities and whether they culminated their college experience with a comprehensive exam, capstone and/or thesis.

College’s Residential Character, 13:1 Student-Faculty Ratio Are Keys to Engagement

Bethany freshmen (first-year students) scored 18 percentage points higher than those in selected regional peer institutions of similar size and type in “wrote more than 4 papers or reports between 5 and 19 pages” and 20 percent higher than the composite average for all NSSE 2011 rankings. First-year students also scored 12 points higher than selected peer institutions in “discussed ideas from classes with faculty outside of class” and 17 percentage points higher than the average for all NSSE 2011 rankings.

Seniors scored 22 percentage points higher in “wrote at least one paper or report of 20 pages or more” than those in selected regional peer institutions and 25 points higher than the composite average for all NSSE 2011 rankings. Seniors also scored 24 points higher than selected peer institutions in “did an independent study or self-designed major” and 28 points higher than the average for all NSSE 2011 rankings.

These findings came as no surprise to the president. “Bethany’s size, small residential learning environment, 13:1 student-faculty ratio and active residential life/athletic programs help to engage our students in ways that larger institutions may not,” Dr. Miller said.

Bethany freshmen also scored significantly higher, compared to first-year students at peer institutions, in these areas:

  • Worked with other students on projects during class (53% vs. 44%)
  • Worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework (29% vs. 21%)
  • Spent more than 5 hours per week participating in co-curricular activities (56% vs. 34%)

Bethany seniors also scored significantly higher, compared with seniors at peer institutions, in these areas:

  • Completed foreign language coursework (74% vs. 41%)
  • Completed a culminating senior experience (capstone, thesis, comprehensive exam (69% vs. 40%))
  • Spent more than 5 hours/week participating in co-curricular activities (57% vs. 29%)

As families and students begin the selection process for the upcoming 2011-2012 academic year, President Miller encouraged them to “use NSSE and other rankings to aid them in forming a complete and balanced picture of their campus(es) of interest.”

“At a time when higher education standards in the United States are being evaluated in a global context, NSSE data provide real insights into the qualities that go into making the campus learning environment in a liberal arts setting an exceptional one for our Bethany students,” Dr. Miller said.

Bethany College, chartered in 1840, is West Virginia’s oldest independent college. It focuses on excellence in undergraduate liberal arts education with 26 departmental and six interdisciplinary majors and 33 minors. Its values-centered education emphasizes service to campus and community in a pluralistic society. The list of distinguished Bethany alumni includes a former World Court justice, a columnist for the New York Times, former director of the National Cancer Institute, an Academy Award-winning actress, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, and a global managing partner of an international law firm.