Jeffrey Selingo, the author of College (Un)Bound, was a keynote speaker at our Noel-Levitz National Conference in Chicago in July. He had a lot of great observations on today’s world of higher education. In particular, he highlighted four benefits of a residential college experience, which resonated with me since my daughter Kylie is about to start her sophomore year at a Midwest, residential, liberal-arts college. You may have been following my blog series on Kylie’s experiences through the college search process, orientation and move-in, and my own observations on the parent communications I received during her freshman year.
These are Jeffrey Selingo’s four benefits of a residential college experience, and I asked Kylie to reflect on her first year within the context of his observations. If you are affiliated with a residential college serving traditional students, you may want to consider how you are highlighting and promoting similar experiences that your students may be having.
Benefit 1: Offering faculty as mentors to students
Kylie felt that building on relationships with her faculty members from the very beginning was essential and that she was able to build strong relationships with many faculty members during her first year. She appreciated the opportunity to get to know her faculty advisor. He was the first faculty member she met during orientation and he also taught her section of her required freshman seminar course, further developing their relationship. For her other courses, Kylie liked that they were smaller, discussion-oriented classes rather than lecture style. Through these classroom discussions, and by taking advantage of meetings with the professors during office hours, she got to know the faculty. Kylie shared that she was able to bond with the faculty members as they gained a better understanding of her values and beliefs. She expects that these relationships will continue to grow during her sophomore year.
Benefit 2: Providing undergraduate research opportunities (working in teams and solving real-world problems)
During the second semester of Kylie’s freshman seminar, she had an assignment for a research project. Her class had a variety of topics to choose from, and her section focused on the topic of higher education. She had to develop her own “interpretive question” that wasn’t too broad or too narrow, draft a research proposal, and get her question approved before conducting her full research. She tapped into the library resources and the library staff for these activities. Kylie’s topic was “Online education: student and faculty satisfaction.” (She is my daughter after all and has grown up around the Noel-Levitz Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys her entire life!) Other students researched topics such as the value of AP courses in high school and whether it is appropriate to get college credit from these classes; religion within private colleges and the role it ought to play in the classroom; and the role and purpose of affirmative action. Kylie said her professor helped to guide how to use the resources available to the students and how to build a strong research paper as they were exploring these real-world issues. Kylie’s other courses also involved team projects and collaborative learning opportunities.
Benefit 3: Encouraging students to take risks and to learn how to fail
Kylie learned that she had to adapt to each professor’s preferences for writing style and their expectations for content, organization, length, and so on. She also found that she was more willing to get tutoring assistance than she would have been in high school. While she didn’t feel like she necessarily needed the tutoring, she was encouraged to take advantage of it since it was readily available and helped her reach her potential in her writing and coursework. Kylie shared that she intentionally asked for help from other students, tutors, and the faculty, and that there was no harm in asking for assistance. She said, “It is better to take a risk and ask rather than to struggle and potentially get a lower grade.” Kylie also took risks with trying new activities and attempted to get involved on campus as much as possible. She joined organizations and tried activities if they sounded even remotely interesting. In the process, she met new people who had similar passions and interests. Kylie shared, “College has to be a good balance of studying and having fun, and my fun came from the extracurricular activities I was involved in.” She also felt like she branched out by discovering her own independence and realizing that just because her friends aren’t involved in an activity, doesn’t mean she couldn’t be. This philosophy helped her to make new friends and discover new life passions.
Benefit 4: Providing cross-cultural experiences
Kylie observed that while the students at her Midwestern liberal arts college are fairly homogenous, the college did a good job of getting her out of that bubble and into broader cultural interactions. She formed relationships with students who grew up in urban settings as well as those who were raised in the country. Her most influential cross-cultural experience was volunteering in a nearby community as an English as a Second Language tutor to immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, as well as refugees from Somalia and the Sudan. Kylie shared that this volunteering allowed her to build relationships in unexpected places. She was invited to birthday parties for the immigrants and attended diversity nights. She was amazed at how people from a variety of cultures were able to come together to form one community. Her volunteer experience led to her being invited to attend meetings at the local Peace and Justice Center and has fueled her passion for helping people within a larger global community. In January, she will further expand her cross-cultural experiences by studying abroad in South Africa.
I realize that Kylie’s experience may not be relevant in all cases, but I think it provides a strong example of the stories you could be sharing about your individual students on your campus. Have you helped your students think about the relationships they are forming with faculty, how they have learned to conduct research, where they are taking risks, and how their world is expanding from cross-cultural experiences? By helping students (and their parents) connect the dots on these learning experiences, you can reinforce the value of the education you are providing and help confirm for students why they should stay enrolled at your institution. Student satisfaction assessment can help you not only assess the student experience, but share the strengths of your campus with your student body as well as prospective students.
How are you gathering student stories? How are you making the connection that the investment of the tuition dollars is worthwhile? Share your thoughts with me with a comment below or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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