Student relationships with faculty and administrators

One of Augustana College’s fundamental values is the importance of high quality relationships between students and faculty.  Indeed, this is one of the most compelling arguments for attending a small liberal arts college.  I would argue that this assertion has always included the quality of relationships between students and everyone who might impact our students’ educational experience – not just those traditionally considered to be faculty.  In fact, students don’t differentiate between those of us who are “faculty” and those of us who are “staff” or “administrators” in the same way that we do.  Thus, all of us should fully expect to have a significant impact on our students’ education – no matter the context of those interactions.

There are two questions on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that ask about the quality of students’ relationships with 1) faculty members and 2) administrative personnel and offices. The response options are somewhat unique – instead of a simple 5-item agree/disagree scale, the available responses are portrayed on a spectrum from 1-7; with 1 representing “unfriendly, unhelpful, sense of alienation” and 7 representing “friendly, supportive, sense of belonging.”  This spectrum may require a little more thought, but the idea is that these choices more fully reflect the concept underlying the question.

In comparison with all of the schools that use NSSE (most of which are much larger than Augustana), both our freshmen and our seniors report a significantly higher quality of relationships with faculty.  Moreover, the quality of relationships appears to improve between the freshmen and senior year.

Quality of Relationships w/ Faculty

Augustana

Overall NSSE Average

     Freshmen

5.59

5.21

     Seniors

5.90

5.42

 

However, something happens when our students are asked the same question about their quality of relationships with administrative personnel and offices.  While our freshmen scores are significantly higher than the overall NSSE average, our senior scores are significantly lower than the comparable overall NSSE average.

Quality of Relationships w/ Administrative Personnel and Offices

Augustana

Overall NSSE Average

     Freshmen

4.99

4.74

     Seniors

4.32

4.60

 

Regardless of the possible reasons for lower ratings of relationships with administrators generally (one such reason might be that administrators tend to dispense fines more often than faculty, for example), it seems reasonable to strive for and expect an increase in the quality of those relationships that mirrors the change in student/faculty relationships.  Unfortunately, this does not appear to be case.  While the reasons for these opposing trends are probably complex, I would humbly suggest that they not beyond our control.

Usually I end my column with a simple “Make it a good day.”  This time, I’d like to end with something slightly different.

In your own way – big or small, make it a good day for a student.

Mark

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