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What makes a college experience and experiences in college valuable? #admission #highered #.edu

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What makes a college experience and experiences in college valuable?

The idea of communicating value is often elusive, especially in higher education. I’ve done my best to discuss value and valuable experiences in a previous blog post, which you can read here and here. And, I’ve heard myself say, “We need to sell value” to various stakeholders here at Augustana College. Typically, blank faces stare back with no idea how to take the next step. I understand this and quite frankly have never been absolutely certain what tools to provide to those who need to deliver the message.

Thanks to some very fine work in Augustana’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, I believe we are closer than ever to being equipped with the answers to two important questions:

What makes a college experience valuable?

What experiences in college are most valuable?

While I am not sure we’ve captured lightning in a bottle, I think we may be close. Recently, I was thrilled to be able to sit down with my colleague Dr. Mark Salisbury (who also writes this great blog, which you should check out) and go over the recent results of our Senior Survey, which was redesigned to ask more relevant questions that help us understand what works and what doesn’t.

In future blog posts, I will unpack this information more fully, but for now I want to provide an overview of what we discovered may be the foundation for a valuable college experience, and the experiences that contribute to that value.

A valuable college experience

The Senior Survey as Augustana identified three outcomes (listed below) that seem to suggest what constitutes a valuable college experience.

Those items are:

  1. The likelihood of choosing Augustana College again. (8 of 10 graduates agreed or strongly agreed with this statement)
  2. The certainty that one’s immediate post-graduate plan is a good fit. (8 of 10 graduates agreed with this statement)
  3. A full-time job or graduate school before graduation. (4 out of 10 answered yes, which is not too bad given that this survey was done prior to graduation)

I think these three items could represent the most concrete and succinct statements I’ve seen on what makes college valuable.

These three things represent both value and valuable.

The idea that one would choose this college experience all over again is a very strong statement of value and represents an internal satisfaction worth noting. The idea of certainty about immediate post-graduate plans represents an intrinsic value that proves we’ve reinforced value. And, finally, the idea of having a full-time job or graduate school acceptance in place creates security about a new graduate’s future and reinforces the value of the Augustana experience to external stakeholders. (It is also worth noting that we also conduct a survey of graduates nine months after graduation that reveals our many more of graduates secure employment or enter graduate school by that time marker).

How do these things items measure up in your view of what makes for a valuable college experience?

Experiences that make a college valuable

What is really nifty, though, about Augustana’s Senior Survey is that we also know which experiences are most likely to influence overall college value in the areas listed above. Not only is this really powerful information, it’s reinforcement about what we do and what we do well.

Below is a list of experiences that heavily influence each of the value measures described above:

For the 8 out of 10 Augustana graduates who indicated the likelihood of choosing Augustana again, it was the experiences in the areas listed below that positively impacted their experience:

Residential life:

  • Helped first-year transition to college
  • Helped develop useful ways to handle and resolve conflict
  • Transitional Living Areas (apartments) helped develop the skills to live independently

Co-curricular Experiences:

  • Helped connect classroom learning with real world events
  • Helped build a network of healthy, lasting friendships

Curricular Experiences outside the major:

  • Helped appreciate the way that different disciplines make sense of the world
  • Courses were available in the order one needed to take them

Overall Curricular Experiences:

  • One-on-one interaction with faculty influenced intellectual growth and interest in ideas

Experiences in the major:

  • Faculty knew how to help one prepare to achieve post-graduate plans
  • Major offered courses that match with specific interests

Library Interactions:

  • Helped build confidence in one’s ability to research a future topic

Campus Environment:

  • Strong sense of belonging
  • Concerned about the individual

For the 8 out of 10 Augustana graduates who were certain that immediate post-graduate plans were a good fit, it was the experiences in the areas below that positively impacted their experience:

Campus participation:

  • Internship
  • Service learning

Advising:

  • Asked to connect curricular, co-curricular, and post-graduate plans

Co-curricular Experiences:

Helped develop an understanding of oneself

Curricular Experiences outside the major:

Asked to include different perspectives in discussions or writing assignments

Courses were available in the order one needed to take them

Overall Curricular Experiences:

One-on-one interaction with faculty influenced intellectual growth and interest in ideas

Experiences in the major:

  • Faculty knew how to help one prepare to achieve post-graduate plans

Campus Environment:

  • Strong sense of belonging

For the 4 out of 10 Augustana graduates who had already accepted a job or enjoyed a graduate school placement before graduating, it was the experiences in the areas listed below that positively impacted their experience:

Campus participation:

  • Honor society membership
  • Undergraduate research

Experiences in the major:

  • Faculty knew how to help one prepare to achieve post-graduate plans

Interactions with the Community Engagement Center:

  • Began actively creating a résumé or grad school profile during freshman or sophomore year

Really, this is amazing stuff. This is longer than most blog posts I do and I will be back with more, but for now I think I can say that a valuable college experience is one that a student would choose again, gives a student confidence about his or her choices and provides a graduate with a secure future.

If that’s what makes a valuable college experience, Augustana is of great value to, and a great value for, its students! I like what Augustana does for students.

What are you doing to prove the value of the experience your institution offers? What are the questions you are asking of your graduates?

W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission

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