National Survey Targets Student Engagement at UW

January 20, 2010
Seven students walking across Prexy's Pasture
More than 1,500 University of Wyoming students participated in the 2009 National Survey of Student Engagement.

University of Wyoming freshmen students are taking advantage of new study abroad opportunities and more of them are involved in community service and volunteer activities, according to the 2009 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) results.

The survey, administered every two years at the University of Wyoming, asks both first-year students and seniors how they spend their time, the level of academic challenge they face and their participation in various activities outside the classroom.

"UW administers the NSSE to identify areas in which we are doing very well and, more importantly, to identify areas in which we want and need to improve," says Rollin Abernethy, associate provost. "Results from past years led us to develop more programs for our first-year students intended to support and encourage their transition to the academic and cultural life of a university."

Results compare how UW students fare against counterparts at participating U.S. colleges and universities in five areas of effective educational practice -- level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences and supportive educational experiences.

UW seniors and freshmen's experiences are slightly higher than their peers' experiences in the areas of student-faculty interaction and supportive campus environment. UW students' experience in level of academic challenge is nearly the same as those of students across the nation.

UW students score lower than their peers on active collaborative learning and enriching educational experiences.

Where UW doesn't measure up, university officials have taken steps to improve students' chances for success. The university in recent years has added programs and encouraged involvement in two areas where its students lagged behind -- community service and international study.

The 2009 NSSE results show there is strong student interest in study abroad, indicating that the university has the opportunity to expand this program. Fifty-eight percent of freshmen have completed or planned to complete foreign language coursework while 45 percent of seniors had completed foreign language coursework. In addition, 40 percent of freshmen said they have completed or planned to study abroad.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Mrs. Lynne Cheney funded a gift that provides the university remarkable support for international education. Part of the gift was $1.7 million, matched by the state, to establish a study abroad scholarship endowment. To date, more than 380 students have benefited from Cheney grants and fellowships with study in 45 different countries.

UW continues to create and expand opportunities for student community service.

"We now have four major service days a year," Katie Kleinhesselink, coordinator for the Center for Volunteer Service (CVS), says. This fall, 1,200 students contributed more than 12,500 hours of service for projects such as community cleanup efforts, working on Habitat for Humanity construction projects and assisting charitable organizations including Interfaith Good Samaritan, the Salvation Army and the Clothing Cottage.

The CVS also offers Alternative Spring Break, which allows students to work on projects such as habitat restoration or working in homeless shelters across the country. More than 70 students participate annually at sites around the country. This spring, students will be able to assist projects in Jamaica, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, among other sites.

UW continues to support the Wyoming Conservation Corps, in which teams of students spend the summer working on habitat restoration and construction projects in partnership with state and federal agencies. Last summer, 39 students contributed more than 28,000 service hours, an increase from 29 students working 20,000 hours in 2007. WCC is growing -- in summer 2010, 48 students are scheduled to work on WCC projects.

The corps has created a partnership with Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (SLCE) in the leadership course offered on campus. To promote civic engagement by students, SLCE offers leadership development training and resources for individuals and student organizations.

Students can participate in nationally ranked club sports teams, award-winning service learning programs and nationally recognized residence hall leadership programs. In fact, according to 2009 NSSE results, the majority of students spend some time engaging in co-curricular activities (65 percent of freshmen and 58 percent of seniors).

"The NSSE provides useful data on a range of measures that are well documented to affect student learning and personal growth," Abernethy says. "We will continue to use this kind of information to recognize our best efforts and to improve those with which we are dissatisfied."

An overview of these efforts is highlighted in the university's self-study to the Higher Learning Commission for its upcoming institutional reaccreditation. The study is online at

About NSSE

-- The 2009 report from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), Assessment for Improvement: Tracking Student Engagement over Time, details results from a 2009 survey of 360,000 students attending 617 U.S. colleges and universities.

-- At the University of Wyoming, the spring 2009 NSSE was administered as a Web survey. UW respondents included about 550 first-year students (39 percent of those who were invited to participate) and more than 1,000 seniors (a 49 percent response in this group).

Details about UW NSSE results, with previous results can be found at

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