NSSE Survey Shows Bethany College Freshmen, Seniors Outperform Peers

Results Confirm College’s Reputation as a High-Quality Learning Environment

BETHANY, W.Va. –Bolstering Bethany College’s mission as a small campus of academic rigor, strong student engagement and outcomes, Bethany freshmen and seniors are outperforming selected peers in key benchmarked questions. These results, just released from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) for the 2008-2009 academic year, validate the College’s reputation as a highly effective undergraduate institution of national distinction, said Dr. Scott D. Miller, President of the College.

“These data—in which Bethany students scored from 11 to 20 percentage points higher than students attending similar peer institutions in these selected areas—provide quantifiable insights into the qualities that make the Bethany campus an effective learning environment,” Dr. Miller said. “They tell families, students and prospective students that our faculty and co-curricular staff are doing their job; providing an engaging and intellectually challenging environment for our students to learn inside—and outside—the classroom.”

More than three-quarters of Bethany students questioned feel that the College places substantial emphasis on academics. Nearly two-thirds frequently discuss readings or ideas from coursework outside of class. Two-thirds of the seniors have participated in an internship, practicum, or field experience and a high percentage of all respondents praise the accessibility and support of Bethany faculty.

Data Help to Inform College Selection Process

President Miller believes the findings are significant because they are based upon what students themselves are saying about their Bethany experience. “As families and high school upperclassmen begin the college selection process, it is imperative that they start by asking the right questions,” Dr. Miller said. “This data and accompanying pocket guidebook will assist them in demystifying that process.”

The survey—now entering its 10th year—provides comparative standards for assessing effective educational practices in higher education in five key areas: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences and supportive campus environment.

Questions for first-year students measured reading, written papers and reports, involvement with faculty and co-curricular activities. Seniors were asked about the opportunities available to work with faculty members on activities other than coursework, completion of foreign language coursework, independent study or self-designed majors, spending more than five hours per week participating in co-curricular activities and whether they culminated their college experience with a comprehensive exam, capstone and/or thesis.

College’s Residential Character, 13:1 Student-Faculty Ratio Are Keys to Engagement

Bethany freshmen (first-year students) scored a cumulative 11 percentage points higher than those in selected regional peer institutions of similar size and type in “reading more than 10 assigned books or book-length packs of readings,” and 24 percent higher than the composite average for all NSSE 2008 rankings. Seniors scored a cumulative 16 percentage points higher in “working with faculty members on activities other than coursework.”

These findings came as no surprise to the president. “Bethany’s size, small residential learning environment, 13:1 student-faculty ratio and active residential life/athletic programs help to engage our students in ways that larger institutions may not,” Dr. Miller said.

Bethany freshmen also scored significantly higher, compared to first-year students at peer institutions, in these areas:

  • Wrote more than four papers or reports between 5-19 pages (54%-40%)
  • Worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework (38%-26%)
  • Spent more than 5 hours per week participating in co-curricular activities (62%-42%)

Bethany seniors also scored significantly higher, compared with seniors at peer institutions, in these areas:

  • Completed foreign language coursework (72%-58%)
  • Did an independent study or self-designed major (43%-29%)
  • Completed a culminating senior experience (capstone, thesis, comprehensive exam (59%-50%)

As families and students begin the selection process for the upcoming 2009-2010 academic year, President Miller encouraged them to “use NSSE and other rankings to aid them in forming a complete and balanced picture of their campus(es) of interest.”

“At a time when higher education standards in the United States are being evaluated in a global context, NSSE data provide real insights into the qualities that go into making the campus learning environment an exceptional one for our Bethany students,” Dr. Miller said.

Bethany College, chartered in 1840, is West Virginia’s oldest independent college. It focuses on excellence in undergraduate liberal arts education with eight selected pre-professional programs and strong academic niches in equine studies, communications, fine arts and business. Its values-centered education emphasizes service to campus and community in a pluralistic society. The list of distinguished Bethany alumni includes a World Court justice, the director of the National Cancer Institute, an Academy Award-winning actress, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, senior vice president of a major international ad agency and the director of a world-famous Fortune 500 electronics company.