Every once in a while you get lucky enough to have multiple studies that all point pretty clearly to the same conclusions. So in the spirit of Christmas, I give you a gift of confirmatory evidence that all of what we do at Augustana – in the classroom and outside of it – matters for student learning. Special thanks should go to my student assistant, Melanie, who did all of the data analysis and even wrote the first draft of this post. Thanks, Melanie!
The Recent Alumni Survey asks a cohort of graduates about their experiences in the nine months since they walked across the stage to receive their diploma. Three items in this survey are designed to get at some of the intended outcomes of an Augustana education. Those items ask:
- To what extent do you feel your Augustana experience prepared you to succeed in your current program?
- To what extent do you feel your Augustana experience prepared you to succeed in your current position/job?
- To what degree does your current professional/educational status align with your long term career goals?
The first two questions address our graduates’ perception of the quality of their preparation for their next step in adult life, be it graduate school or their first foray into the world of work. Because we care about the full arc of our graduates’ adult lives, the third question addresses the degree to which that “next step” – the one for which our mission demands that we play an important role in preparation and selection, aligns with their long term goals.
To help us improve the quality of an Augustana education, we want to determine the nature of the relationship between college experiences that we already believe to be important (gleaned from our last senior survey) and our graduates’ lives nine months after they graduated. To this end, we linked responses from our 2013 senior survey and same individuals who responded to our recent graduate survey in the winter and early spring of 2014. After identifying which senior survey items significantly predicted (in a statistical sense) these recent alumni outcomes, we expanded our analysis to account for several factors that might confound our findings: race, socio-economic status, gender and cumulative GPA. The table below shows the experiences that emerged as statistically significant positive predictors for each outcome organized by the nature of the environment in which those experiences exist.
|To what degree does your current professional/ educational status align with your long term career goals?||To what extent do you feel your Augustana experience prepared you to succeed in your current program? (asked of alums in grad school)||To what extent do you feel your Augustana experience prepared you to succeed in your current position/job? (asked of alums in the workforce)|
|Co-curricular Experiences||-My out-of-class experiences have helped me develop a deeper understanding of myself||-My out of class experiences helped me develop a deeper understanding of myself*-My out of class experiences helped me develop a deeper understanding of how I relate to others|
|Advising||- How often did your major adviser ask you about your career goals and aspirations?||- How often did your major adviser ask you about your career goals and aspirations?||- How often did your major adviser ask you about your career goals and aspirations?-My major adviser connected me with other campus resources|
|Experiences in the Major||-Faculty in this major cared about my development as a whole person-In this major, how frequently did your faculty emphasize making judgments about the value of information, arguments, or methods, such as examining how others gathered and interpreted data and assessing the soundness of their conclusions?|
|Overall Curricular Experience||-My one-on-one interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my intellectual growth and interests in ideas||-My one-on-one interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my intellectual growth and interests in ideas|
Clearly there are multiple experiences across a range of settings that influence these three outcomes. Moreover, these findings are similar to the results of prior alumni data analyses and replicate findings from analyses of senior survey data. In short, we can be confident that the experiences noted in the table above play a critical role in shaping the success of Augustana graduates.
These findings strongly emphasize the importance of quality and purposeful faculty interactions with students. The item, “my one-on-one interactions with faculty have had a positive influence on my intellectual growth and interests in ideas,” significantly predicted students’ sense of preparedness for both those entering graduate programs and those who went into the workforce. This item focuses on more than the frequency of students’ interactions with faculty or friendliness of those interactions. Instead, this item emphasizes the nature of faculty influence; encouraging, inspiring, cajoling, pushing, prodding, and even challenging students to engage tough questions and complicated ideas while at the same time supporting students as they struggle with the implications and ramifications of their own evolving values, beliefs, and worldview.
Faculty influence was again evident in the advising relationship. The question, “How often did your major adviser ask you about your career goals and aspirations?” significantly predicted all three outcomes. In addition, for graduates in the workforce faculty attention to connecting students with other campus resources also influenced the graduates’ sense of preparedness. Furthermore, faculty impact on our graduates’ success is apparent in the major experiences that predicted students’ sense of preparation for their career. Two items were significantly predictive: “Faculty in this major cared about my development as a whole person,” and “In this major, how frequently did your faculty emphasize making judgments about the value of information, arguments, or methods, such as examining how others gathered and interpreted data and assessing the soundness of their conclusions?” In addition to confirming the caring aspect of quality and purposeful faculty interactions with students, this finding also highlights the value of classroom experiences that cultivate higher order thinking skills.
It is also worth noting the importance of out-of-class experiences in predicting our graduates’ success. Again, the importance of the developmental quality of these experiences is paramount. Instead of items that denote participation in particular types of organizations or activities, the items that proved predictive emphasize that the experiences that matter are ones that help students develop in two ways. First, they help students develop a deeper understanding of themselves. Second, they help students develop a deeper understanding of how they relate to others. Obviously, these skills are critical for success in every manner of adult life. The key for Augustana is to ensure that every out-of-class experience contributes – directly or indirectly – to this kind of growth.
The goal of this analysis was not to determine which experiences (faculty interactions or co-curricular experiences) play a larger role in shaping Augustana graduates’ outcomes. Instead, it is clear that all facets of the Augustana education contribute to our students’ success. It is also clear that not all graduates experience Augustana in a way that maximizes the potential impact of quality and purposeful faculty interaction or developmental out-of-class activities. Throughout the institution, we can use these findings as principled guidelines to improving the work that we do with our students.
Make it a good day (and a great holiday break),