WCU earns high marks for engaged learning

Western Carolina University has earned high marks on an annual survey conducted by a national higher education organization that assesses U.S. universities and colleges on their performance in designing activities that improve student learning.

Results of the 2012 National Survey of Student Engagement, released Nov. 15, indicate that WCU significantly outperforms a group of institutional peers on all five important benchmarks of effective educational practices that are examined in the survey.

The NSSE (pronounced “Nessie”) findings indicate that WCU students report being more engaged than students at peer colleges and universities of similar size and mission, said Melissa Wargo, assistant vice chancellor for planning and effectiveness.

“The survey reaffirms that Western Carolina University offers an undergraduate college experience that prioritizes a campus environment where students feel actively involved in their own learning, individually and with others,” Wargo said. “It tells us that our students believe they are afforded greater access to faculty, and that they feel the university is committed to their success.”

Conducted annually by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, the NSSE is sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. More than 1,500 colleges have participated in the survey since its inception in 2000. The 2012 survey measured responses from 285,000 freshmen and seniors at 546 U.S. colleges and universities. A total of 442 WCU students took part in the survey.

The 2012 report, titled “Promoting Student Learning and Institutional Improvement: Lessons from NSSE at 13 – Annual Results 2012,” indicates that, among first-year students, WCU significantly outperforms its institutional peers on all five of the benchmarks of effective educational practice.

Those benchmark are:

*  Level of academic challenge, including institutional emphasis on studying and academic work; faculty expectations of student; time spent studying outside the classroom; writing and reading requirements; and level of complexity of exams.

* Active and collaborative learning, including number of team projects, class presentations and community-based projects; internships and field experiences; and peer tutoring.

* Student-faculty interaction, including faculty accessibility and support; research projects with faculty members; promptness of feedback; and activities with faculty on committees and projects outside the classroom.

* Enriching educational experiences, including participation in learning communities or independent study; conversations with peers with different viewpoints or of different racial or ethnic backgrounds; study abroad opportunities; and community service.

* Supportive campus environment, including interactions with other students; overall satisfaction with the educational experience; time devoted to co-curricular activities; and institutional support for academic and social needs.

Among first-year and senior students, WCU also scored significantly above the national NSSE average in the areas of student-faculty interaction and supportive campus environment, indicating that students feel that the institution is committed to ensuring their success and that they have more opportunities to work with faculty members inside and outside the classroom, said Wargo.

“The NSSE benchmarks reflect educational practices that have been consistently linked with higher levels of student learning and development,” Wargo said. “We are pleased with what our students are saying about their experiences at Western Carolina. Their responses validate our commitment to providing an undergraduate education that is built on a foundation of engaged, intentional learning.”