Last week I shared a comparison of the overall major advising data from seniors in 2014 and 2015. Although not all of the differences between the two years of data met the threshold for statistical significance, taken together it seemed pretty likely that these improved numbers weren’t just a function of chance. As you might expect by now, another aspect of this finding piqued my curiosity. Is this change a result of a relatively small campus-wide improvement or are the increases in the overall numbers a result of a particular department’s efforts to improve?
Since the distribution of our seniors’ major choices leans heavily toward a few departments (about half of our students major in Biology, Business, Psychology, or Education), it didn’t take too long to isolate the source of our jump in major advising scores. Advising scores in Business, Psychology, and Education didn’t change much between 2014 and 2015. But in Biology? Something pretty impressive happened.
Below is a comparison of the increases on each advising question overall and the increases on each advising question for Biology and Pre-Med majors. In particular, notice the column marked “Diff.”
|Senior Survey Questions||Overall||Biology/PreMed|
|Cared about my development||4.11||4.22||+.11||3.70||4.02||+.32|
|Helped me select courses||3.93||4.05||+.12||3.49||3.90||+.41|
|Asked about career goals||3.62||3.73||+.11||3.39||3.81||+.42|
|Connected with campus resources||3.35||3.47||+.12||3.11||3.36||+.25|
|Asked me to think about links btwn curr., co-curr., and post-grad plans||3.41||3.57||+.16||3.04||3.48||+.44|
|Helped make the most of college||3.85||3.97||+.12||3.36||3.80||+.44|
|How often you talked to your adviser||3.62||3.51||-.11||3.09||3.27||+.18|
It’s pretty hard to miss the size of the increased scores for Biology and Pre-Med majors between 2014 and 2015. In every case, these increased scores are three or four times larger than the increases in overall scores. In a word: Impressive!
So what happened?
Advising is a longstanding challenge for Biology and Pre-Med faculty. For decades this department has struggled to adequately advise a seemingly endless flow of majors. Last spring, Biology and Pre-Med graduated almost 150 students and at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year there were 373 declared majors in either program. Moreover, that number probably underestimates the actual number of majors they have to work with since many students declare their major after the 10th day of the term (when this data snapshot was archived).
Yet the faculty in the Biology and Pre-Med department decided to tackle this challenge anyway. Despite the overwhelming numbers, maybe there was a way to get a little bit better by making even more of the limited time each adviser spent with each student. Each faculty adviser examined senior survey data from their own advisees and picked their own point of emphasis for the next year. Several of the Biology and Pre-Med faculty shared with me the kinds of things that they identified for themselves. Without fail, each faculty member decided to make sure that they talked about CORE in every meeting, be it the resources available in CORE for post-graduate preparation or just the value of making a visit to the CORE office and establishing a relationship. Several others talked about making sure that they pressed their advisees to describe the connections between the classes they were taking and the co-curricular activities in which they were involved, pushing their students to be intentional with everything they chose to do in college. Finally, more than one person noted that even though advising had always been important to them, they realized how easy it was to let one or more of the the usual faculty stresses color their mood during advising meetings, (e.g., succumbing to the stress of an upcoming meeting or a prior conversation). They found ways to get themselves into a frame of mind that improved the quality of their interaction with students.
None of these changes seem all that significant by themselves. Yet together, it appears that the collective effort of the Biology and Pre-Med faculty – even in the face of a continued heavy stream of students, made a powerful difference in the way that students’ rated their advising experience in the major.
Improvement isn’t as daunting as it might sometimes seem. In many cases, it just takes an emphasis on identifying small changes and implementing them relentlessly. So three cheers for Biology and Pre-Med. You’ve demonstrated that even under pretty tough circumstances, we can improve something by focusing on it and making it happen.
Make it a good day,