UH Hilo Scores Well on Nationwide Measure of Educational Quality

University of Hawaiʻi
Posted: Nov 15, 2001

Data assessed by the National Survey of Student Achievement (NSSE) indicate that seniors attending the University of Hawai'i at Hilo are getting a better than average post-secondary education when compared to seniors at other institutions of higher learning across the United States. Seniors at UH Hilo scored above the national norm in all benchmark categories assessed recently by the NSSE.

"The NSSE," said Dr. Lynne Stamoulis, UH Hilo director of institutional research, "is making inroads on such national rating systems such as that done by the U. S. News and World Report because it focuses on best practices in higher education as a proxy for educational quality. "U.S. News and World Report," she added, "does not quantify educational quality nor use it as a variable in its rating system. The NSSE questions college freshmen and seniors about their experiences at the institution as well as their study practices, backgrounds, and aspirations. The benchmark categories include levels of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student interactions with faculty members, enriched educational experiences, and the supportiveness of the campus environment."

Seniors and freshmen alike scored above the national norm for enriching educational experiences, an area which UH Hilo faculty and administration feel is one of UH Hilo's special strengths, said Stamoulis. Such experiences include student hands-on involvement with faculty research, service learning, use of technology and interaction in UH Hilo's rich multicultural community.

In overall student interactions with faculty members, the UH Hilo senior benchmark score was 46.8, versus the national score of 42.9. Over a third of seniors, 34.6 percent, reported working with faculty on research projects, compared with 30 percent at peer institutions and 23.3 percent nationally. Not surprisingly, freshmen scores were lower, reflecting the positive gains of the college experience.

"For overall level of academic challenge, UH Hilo's senior benchmark score was 57.0, peer group 60.0, and national norm 56.6," Stamoulis reported. "And as might be expected on the most ethnically diverse campus in the nation, in all items involving positive interaction with people of other racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds, UH Hilo freshmen and seniors scores far exceeded both peer and national norms."

In providing a supportive campus environment, the University scored well for freshmen and even better for seniors, surpassing its peer institutions and the national average. Students give high ratings to UH Hilo's student support services, student-oriented administrative offices, and small classes with high faculty/student interaction. "The NSSE, which focuses on best teaching practices in higher education,
also point faculty toward areas in which teaching can be improved," said Dr. April Komenaka, chair of the UH Hilo English Department and co-director of the UH Hilo accreditation efforts. Although UH Hilo seniors scored at the national norm in this cluster of survey items, freshmen did not. "Survey results suggest that faculty might want to increase the number and difficulty of reading and writing assignments and the level of critical thought required in lower-division courses," said Komenaka.

Not satisfied with being "at the norm," UH Hilo faculty are discussing higher levels of expectations for students and means of providing support to ensure that students achieve these levels, explained Komenaka.

The NSSE findings also reinforce the University's ongoing efforts in assessment of student learning, review and improvement of teaching and curriculum, and student involvement in faculty research. "For example, efforts to establish capstone experiences (senior seminar, thesis, internship) in more programs will be energized by the finding that only 50 percent of UH Hilo seniors have such experiences, versus 72.7 percent of those at peer institutions and 56.1 percent nationally," Komenaka said.

The NSSE 2001 was administered to 177,103 freshmen and senior undergraduate students by 327 institutions across the nation. Participating institutions included public and private, large and small liberal arts colleges and major research institutions.

The survey report compares each institution with two groups: those in the same Carnegie Classification and all universities participating in the survey. UH Hilo is classified with both public and private baccalaureate liberal arts institutions, including Vassar and Harvey Mudd and other highly selective schools. UH Hilo will participate in the NSSE 2002 administration during Spring 2002.