You may have been following along on my daughter Kylie’s college journey. I have written blogs over the past few years as Kylie went through her college selection process, visited campuses, experienced orientation, and reflected on her freshman year. Kylie returned to campus this month to start her junior year (time flies!) but over the summer, we talked a lot about the influential experiences of her sophomore year.
In addition over the summer, my colleague Mari Normyle and I presented a session, “Our Sophomores Need Our Attention, Too!” at the National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention, highlighting data and observations from the Second-Year Student Assessment and the Student Satisfaction Inventory. That presentation and my conversations with Kylie provided insights into the sophomore year that I thought I would share. I have framed them in terms of areas discussed in the Second-Year Assessment and Student Satisfaction Inventory.
Explore advantages and disadvantages of my career choice.
Kylie is an International Studies and Spanish double major. During one International Studies seminar, her professor said, “You are probably in this major because you love to travel, but that won’t pay the bills, so let’s find something that will earn you money and still allow you to work in an area that you care about.” The projects included an online discussion forum and research on self-identified topics that the students were passionate about. The professor brought in guest speakers, including alumni working in a variety of international fields, and the students were able to ask questions about the speakers’ career paths. A follow up assignment had the students reflect on the conversations and whether they could see themselves in a similar career. This class helped open Kylie’s eyes to potential careers following graduation and gave her a better idea on what she would like to do.
Do you have similar seminars as part of your requirements that explore future opportunities for your students?
Find ways to balance the demands of school and work.
Kylie worked as a writing tutor during the school year and she appreciated the opportunity to refine her own writing skills through her interactions with the students she was tutoring. She was also able to build relationships with more faculty members on campus by being visible in the writing center. Kylie did feel the pressure of demands on her time with her tutoring hours and course load, but she was able to meet the demands through time management and the will power to stay focused.
Are you providing support and direction to your work study students to help them make the most of their experience?
Identify work experiences or internships related to my major.
Kylie had two part-time internships in Chicago this past summer. The first was at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, researching a variety of topics and speakers for the programs that the council offers on a regular basis. Through this experience, Kylie was able to broaden her global perspective, build her teamwork skills, and find excellent opportunities for networking. The second internship was with CARE USA, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty and promoting women’s empowerment. With this organization, she worked on the proposal, stewardship, and information team, analyzing reports and writing summaries which highlighted the impact that the projects had. Both internships allowed her to see career opportunities in areas that she is excited about and gave her a taste of the professional world.
Are you promoting internship opportunities to students during their second year?
Make tuition feel like a worthwhile investment.
On the Student Satisfaction Inventory, we see high levels of dissatisfaction with the item “Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment” at four-year institutions. In response, I have recommended that institutions highlight what graduates of the institution are successfully doing and emphasize all that students have access to while enrolled at the institution. But an observation that Kylie made this year reminded me that the little things matter as well when it comes to student perceptions. She said, “We pay a lot of money in tuition every year, and the WiFi doesn’t even work everywhere on campus.” We know how dependent we all are on Internet access and this probably compounded ten-fold for college-age individuals! This is an example of how a simple, somewhat minor grievance is connected in students’ minds to the tuition they are paying and the expectations they have for the quality of service they are expecting in return.
Are you paying attention to the “little things” that contribute to how students think of your institution overall?
Ensure that faculty provide timely feedback about student progress in a course.
Kylie’s experiences with her faculty have been generally positive, but she had one professor second semester who was not good about providing timely feedback. She had weekly exercises that were meant to prepare her for take-home exams, but the exercises were not returned prior to the exams being due, so she never knew how she was doing with the material. The professor was teaching only one class with 20 students, but would take more than four weeks to grade the exams. Kylie didn’t know until the final grade was posted how she had done in that class, which was very frustrating. She provided feedback on the course evaluation and she hopes that the administration will take note. However, she is skeptical because the professor has been on campus for a while and Kylie has heard negative comments about the professor from other students.
Are you responsive to the comments you receive on course evaluations and do you follow up as appropriate with your faculty members?
Faculty are fair and unbiased in their treatment of individual students.
Kylie had an interesting take on this item: she noted that if you meet with faculty during office hours, regularly attend class and actively participate, show interest in the course material, and help your professors understand your own strengths and weaknesses within the course, then the faculty will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. These may be pretty obvious observations, but it reminded me that while faculty generally are going to be fair, they are likely to react more positively toward a student putting in the extra effort.
Are you reinforcing these expectations with your sophomores and providing opportunities for them to build relationships with faculty, especially in the students’ area of interest?
One more note about Kylie’s sophomore year: she had the opportunity to spend three weeks in South Africa, studying the culture and history of the country. Kylie shared that studying abroad was a great experience and what she learned from the South African people could never have been gained from a textbook. This experience, combined with the English as a Second Language tutoring she is doing as a member of the Spanish Club in a nearby community with a large immigration population, have contributed to her experiential learning experiences, and these are the ones that are making lasting impressions. Now she has embarked on an exciting junior year, with an upcoming second semester studying abroad in Valparaíso, Chile!
Student assessment is a key part of improving the student experience
Kylie’s observations, while generally positive, reveal areas for improvement. They are also the kinds of observations campuses can obtain from student satisfaction assessment. I will be hosting a free webinar, Building a Case for Student Satisfaction Assessment, on October 6. I invite you to join me and learn about the advantages of satisfaction assessment and how it can strengthen campus planning, benchmarking, and the student experience.
As always, please feel free to email me with your questions or comments about student assessment strategies or Kylie’s experiences.