New survey reveals differences between seniors and freshman

61 percent of seniors did not participate in extracurricular activities in 2012 (Image by Frank Muraca).

New results from the National Survey of Student Engagement revealed both progress and continuing challenges faced by George Mason University students.

Every three years the NSSE is administered to freshmen and seniors at Mason.

The survey is headed by the Center for Postsecondary Research through Indiana University’s School of Education. The full report covers the results of the 546 participating U.S. colleges and universities.

It evaluates several aspects of campus life including academic rigor, diversity, and the amount of time spent working or relaxing.

“The news, for us, is mostly good, though suggestive of some important ongoing challenges. The over-time data, from three, six and nine years ago, show steady improvement in all categories for our freshmen,” Provost Peter Stearns wrote in a blog post. “For seniors, steady improvements include student-faculty interaction (a real concern for us a few years back), active learning; and supportive environment. Enrichment has been stable for the seniors, level of challenge essentially stable as well, recovering this year from slight dips in the two previous surveys.”

Stearns acknowledged the importance of the survey and how the university responds to the results.

"If we are falling short either by comparison with our previous results or in comparison with other institutions, we have conversations to make things better,” Stearns said in an interview.

For example, the issue of insufficient student-faculty interaction for seniors was brought directly to the faculty and there was a discussion on how to change it.

The provost explained that there are both improvements found in the 2012 results as well as areas that need work.

"In most categories we did either better than last time or as well as, but we still have some distance to go compared to peer institutions and with seniors,” Stearns said.

One significant finding that shows the discrepancy between freshmen and seniors is the number of hours spent per week on extracurricular activities. Compared to 61 percent of seniors, only 35 percent of freshman did not spend any time on extracurricular activities.

Other categories noted in Stearns blog post, such as work on research, involvement in internships, and volunteering, showed significant statistical differences between freshman and seniors.

 “It’s worth wondering why seniors differ from freshmen in terms of engagement trajectories: possibly some impact of the transfer population?” Stearns wrote in his blog.

Click here for the full data set of results.

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