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Chapter 10 - Student Learning and Development

Shippensburg University has many commitments but none surpasses its mission to provide an education that will help all learners to reach their highest intellectual, personal and social potential. In that regard, the institution has served our students long and well. Events of this decade, in certain respects, have been favorable for institutions that have as their primary mission student learning and development. The growing congruence among goals, priorities and standards of the various organizations that have responsibility for ensuring that the university carries out its mission with integrity and to its fullest potential is illustrative. The focusing on students, including what happens to them over the course of their education and the impact that each area of a campus has on that experience, fosters a renewed unity of purpose that both vitalizes and harmonizes the efforts and relations of all who work and study here.

The Middle States Association's Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education, the State System's Imperatives and the university's own mission and goals all emphasize student learning and development as central to the existence of the institution and as key measures of its quality and effectiveness. All underscore, as in the Characteristics of Excellence, the institution's need to have "knowledge and understanding" of its students, to use and experiment with instructional methods (including new technologies) that "vary with the subject matter, learning and teaching styles, and student motivation," and to "promote the comprehensive development" of each student.

To judge how well the university is meeting these goals, the Study Group on Student Learning and Development reviewed a large number of institutional studies containing evidence of student and alumni satisfaction and achievement and interviewed faculty and administrators for their perspectives. Their analysis identified areas of strength as well as ways in which student learning and development could be improved, and concluded with a set of recommendations for enhancing the campus learning environment.

The Undergraduate Experience

Satisfaction with the Experience 

Student Satisfaction. One way of assessing the campus's impact on student learning and development is to examine the expectations and perceptions of students and the extent to which they are satisfied with their college experience. The study group reviewed information of this nature from several sources. One of these was the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI). The SSI was first given to Shippensburg undergraduates in the 1995 fall semester; a second administration occurred in fall 1997. Students in both surveys were sophomores and seniors.

The SSI results reveal that Shippensburg students have expectations similar to students at other comprehensive, public universities in the SSI database. Areas of institutional performance-related specifically to learning and development that students consider most important, nationally and at Shippensburg, are Instructional Effectiveness and Academic Advising. Least important to students here and elsewhere are Campus Life and Service Excellence. One notable exception to this pattern of similarity is the area of Student Centeredness: Shippensburg students in both administrations of the survey place more importance on feeling welcome and valued at the institution they attend than students at other universities.

Students nationally and at Shippensburg were most satisfied with the Instructional Effectiveness, Academic Advising, Student Centeredness and Campus Climate of their respective institutions. Shippensburg undergraduates were more satisfied than students at other universities with their experiences in nearly all of the areas surveyed. Students rated Shippensburg significantly above the norm in satisfaction with Student Centeredness and Concern for the Individual. The area of lowest satisfaction, below national norms, was Registration (called scheduling at Shippensburg). Other areas of dissatisfaction included the ability to obtain information easily (i.e., without "getting the run-around") and the number of weekend activities.

Response differences between sophomores and seniors were small although seniors showed slightly higher levels of satisfaction. Women generally had higher expectations of the university than men but, more than men, experienced satisfaction levels nearly equal to their expectations. A few areas, notably academic advising, showed improvement from 1995 to 1997.

A second useful source of information about student satisfaction is the College Student Experience Questionnaire (CSEQ), administered for the first time at Shippensburg in 1996 to seniors and soon-to-be seniors. Among other measures, the CSEQ includes eight that ascertain student perceptions of the university environment. Five measure the extent to which the environment is perceived by undergraduates to emphasize certain aspects of student learning and personal development; the other three measure students' perceptions of their relationships with others on campus.

Students perceive Shippensburg as emphasizing most the development of their academic, scholarly and intellectual abilities. Less emphasized in their view is the development of vocational and occupational competence, and least emphasized is the development of students' esthetic, expressive and creative talents. Of the three types of relationships measured, the ones perceived to be most positive were those with other students followed by those with faculty and the least positive (even less than the norm) were those with administrative personnel and offices. Shippensburg ratings were similar to those of students from other public, comprehensive universities although the high end of the scales was slightly higher and the low end slightly lower for Shippensburg.

Alumni Satisfaction. For many years, the university has surveyed its alumni to learn how satisfied they are with their education at Shippensburg. In a survey of alumni who graduated with baccalaureate degrees in 1992, 85 percent rated the university overall as above average or excellent; 86.5 percent would start college over at Shippensburg; and, 95 percent would recommend the university to others. In evaluating the academic aspects of their experience, alumni reported being most satisfied with class size, the quality of instruction and usefulness of courses in their major, and the availability of faculty. They were less satisfied with the extent to which technology was a part of their instruction, the usefulness of general education courses and the availability of courses. Both the quality of instruction and the usefulness of courses in the major were rated significantly higher than the quality of instruction and usefulness of courses in general education. With respect to services and activities, alumni were most satisfied with the library, intramural athletics, recreational facilities and the university store. They were least satisfied with financial aid, multicultural affairs, the career development center and scheduling.

The usefulness of the alumni survey is somewhat limited by the fact that the respondents are 1992 graduates who would have entered the university in 1988 or earlier. Since that time a number of changes have been instituted. Hence, alumni respondents would not have experienced an increase in the number of general education credit units required in science, and Bachelor of Arts degree earners would not have completed the current foreign language proficiency requirement. Before the nineties, enrollment management did not play as it does now a significant role in admissions and scheduling, which may account for at least some of the dissatisfaction with the availability of courses and scheduling. Tremendous strides have been made in the incorporation of technology in instruction in the past six years (see Chapter Eleven). Similarly, major changes have been instituted to improve and enhance the financial aid, multicultural affairs and career development services in the last six years. Therefore, the results of this survey should be weighed in the light of both these changes and other more recent data.

In a 1996 survey of alumni who graduated from the fourteen campuses of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Shippensburg graduates' satisfaction ranking was identical to the system-wide pattern. The highest level of satisfaction reported was with the extent to which internships, fieldwork and clinical experiences had helped former students develop their professional skills. Alumni from all of the campuses were least satisfied with the variety of advanced courses offered within their major. For every aspect of their college experience, Shippensburg graduates reported a higher level of satisfaction rating than the system norms.

Comparison of Student and Faculty Perceptions. Results of the latest (1996) Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) Survey indicate that in several important respects Shippensburg faculty's views corroborate those of students and alumni. Faculty (82 percent) see the promotion of students' intellectual development as being a high priority of the university. They believe students are treated as individuals (89 percent) and have ample contact with faculty (87 percent).

The results of another study, using focus groups as the main methodology, cast a slightly different light on the way at least some faculty and students view the campus environment and their relationship with one another. The Academic Climate Report (1996), researched and written by a large committee convened by President Ceddia and sponsored by the University Forum, concludes that faculty see academic interests and issues as occupying a status on campus secondary to its social and extracurricular life. Faculty perceive Shippensburg students as being more interested in the credential leading to a job than in learning itself and as failing to give sufficient time and attention to academic activities, opportunities and expectations. They feel strongly that students need to assume greater responsibility for their own education.

Students, for their part, confirm that their first priority at the university is preparation for a job and many of their recommendations for enhancing the intellectual climate on campus involve improving or increasing career-related activities, especially in association with department faculty. Moreover, they want faculty to provide more direct support in the areas of guidance, advice and job counsel.

Students and faculty on this committee and in the focus groups concur in wanting more active, problem-solving and practical learning experiences for students in and out of the classroom. Faculty see them as ways to better motivate students to learn; students see them as ways to make learning more interesting and to acquire practical experience in preparation for a job.

It should be noted that the undergraduate student members of the Steering Committee disagree with the relatively positive findings of the student surveys regarding academic advising. They report receiving, in their capacity as officers of the Student Association, numerous student complaints about inaccurate or incomplete information from faculty advisors and urge that the recommendations include the need for better academic advising. The discrepancy may arise from the fact that survey data represent a larger number of students, whereas a smaller number of poorly advised students would tend to express their dissatisfaction to members of the Student Association

Review of Satisfaction Findings. While the findings regarding satisfaction with the learning environment at Shippensburg are a miscellany of expectations and perceptions, culled as they are from a variety of different studies conducted at different times, some conclusions can be drawn. The data show that students and alumni are generally highly satisfied with the education they receive at Shippensburg. They are especially satisfied with the quality of instruction and usefulness of courses in their major, the helpfulness of faculty advisors and the library services. They perceive the institutional environment as one that emphasizes academic excellence, values students and promotes feelings of belonging. Faculty are seen as approachable, available and concerned about them as individuals. Alumni, especially, value the opportunities they had to engage in practical applications of course content, such as internships, fieldwork and clinical experiences, the small size of their classes and the recreational facilities and programs.

Current and former students are less satisfied with the usefulness and quality of instruction in general education courses and with the availability and variety of advanced courses in the major. They are least satisfied with the class scheduling process, with administrative personnel and with the availability of weekend activities. Alumni also report having had insufficient training in technology in their fields of study.

It also appears that while students enter the university interested mainly in acquiring the necessary credentials for a desirable job (see Chapter Three), over time they increasingly value learning itself, at least learning that is related to their major fields of study and anticipated careers. They seem not to change their minds much about what they perceive to be the limited importance of a general education.

Student Achievement

Another way of assessing the university's impact on student learning and development is to examine evidence of student achievement and success. The study groups reviewed data on student retention and graduation, self-reported gains of students and alumni, alumni employment and post-baccalaureate study, and the Nelson General Education Assessment Project.

Retention, Persistence and Graduation. A large percentage of Shippensburg undergraduates complete requirements for the baccalaureate degree and graduate. A recent national study by the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE) of 230 institutions of higher education found the average six-year graduation rate to be 54 percent for all institutions and 41 percent for universities in the same classification as Shippensburg-Public Master's Institutions. Shippensburg's six-year rate for the same period and cohort (1990) was 67 percent.

The American College Testing Program's 1998 analysis of national dropout rates for 2545 institutions found that for the 234 campuses in the same classification as Shippensburg, the mean dropout rate for students in their freshmen year of college is 32 percent; the five-year graduation rate is 43 percent. In contrast, for the same period, the dropout rate of Shippensburg freshmen is 23 percent and the five-year graduation rate is 56 percent.

Shippensburg also has the highest rates of retention and graduation among the 14 campuses of the State System of Higher Education. The most recent indicators, for example, show the State System's six-year graduation rate to be 53 percent compared to Shippensburg's 61.4 percent; the four-year retention rate for the System is 57.2 percent, for Shippensburg 65.1 percent

Shippensburg retention and graduation rates evidence a small decline overall beginning in the mid-nineties. Whereas the four-year retention rate for the 1991 cohort was 66.1 percent, for 1993 it was 65.1 percent. The six-year graduation rate for the 1989 cohort was 68.7 percent; for 1991 it was 61.4 percent. Study is underway to determine whether the drop in the 1991/92 six-year graduation rate is an aberration and, if not, its cause.

Mirroring national trends, the retention and graduation rates of females are higher than those of males. The six-year graduation rates for the 1991 freshman cohort, for example, are 68 percent for females and 53 percent for males. For the 1995 cohort, 80 percent of the females versus 75 percent of the males returned for a second year and 72 percent of the females versus 62 percent of the males for a third year. As mentioned in Chapter Three, female students entering the university are somewhat more likely than males to reflect the cognitive and motivational orientation that enables a student to persist and succeed in college. They also enter, on average, better prepared academically, as measured by Probable Success Index (PSI) scores.

The Nelson General Education Assessment Project offers some insight into gender differences in attrition. In the Nelson study, females who placed less emphasis on Achievement and Tradition and somewhat less emphasis on Conformity values were less likely to persist. Perhaps young women who place little importance on Tradition and Conformity are less influenced than other freshmen women by expectations of parents and others that they stay in school. It is also possible that less conventional women did not feel at home in a fairly conventional university located in a conservative rural area. It is not surprising that women who placed less emphasis on Achievement would be more likely to leave in that they would lack the goal-directedness necessary to sustain motivation, but it is surprising that the same pattern does not hold for men. For freshmen men in the 1993 cohort, the only significant predictor in the Nelson study was the placement of greater importance on Benevolence values. Based on other experiences, Nelson and her colleagues speculate that male students who place high importance on Benevolence may be more prone than other students to leave school in response to parental needs or wishes.

Graduation rates of the three largest minority groups at Shippensburg-Asian, African-American and Hispanic-are higher than CSRDE norms for comprehensive public universities and than State System norms. Asian and African-American groups, however, show lower levels of first-year persistence at Shippensburg University than they do nationally and graduation rates below those of Shippensburg averages. Hispanic graduation rates are above the university norm. Still well above CSRDE and State System norms, minority retention rates at Shippensburg have declined from a six-year graduation rate of 42.1 percent for the 1989 cohort to 34.8 percent for the 1991 cohort.

Institutional studies show that retention rates as well as grade averages are related to academic preparation levels. The higher a student's Probable Success Index (PSI) score, in particular, the more likely that student is to persist, earn good grades and graduate. In general, both regularly admitted minority students and those admitted through special programs, such as ACT 101, have lower PSI scores. While minority student grades and retention rates are lower than institutional norms, they are higher than might have been predicted based on both PSI scores and lower levels of self-confidence reported by minorities in the CIRP. This may indicate that programs designed to help students less academically prepared are having a positive impact on their learning and development. As the university has increased its numbers of minority students, both the average level of their academic preparedness on entering and their rates of retention have declined. The university will need to assess the relationship between the academic preparation levels of entering students and its developmental education practices and resources.

Student and Alumni Self-Reported Gains. One of the components of the CSEQ is the Estimate of Gains, which gives insight into students' perceptions of their progress in various intellectual and developmental areas while attending college. When compared to the norms for Comprehensive Colleges and Universities (CCU), Shippensburg seniors reported higher or equal gains on 18 of 23 goals. When compared to responses of students from all six types of university and college represented in the survey, Shippensburg students' estimate of gains is closest to that reported for Selective Liberal Arts Colleges, the category of college in which students nationally report experiencing most gains. The CSEQ also calculates several indices, one of which is the so-called Capacity of Life-long Learning Index which ranges from 11 to 44 points. Shippensburg students' responses generated a score of 30.31, well above the CCU norm of 26.69. For two goals, Shippensburg seniors reported gains significantly lower than the norms: seeing the importance of history and developing good health and fitness habits.

Although their rankings differed slightly, Shippensburg students, like those nationally, reported experiencing most gain in their development of intellectual, personal and social skills and in acquiring career information. The least gain experienced was in the development of an understanding of the humanities and arts, science and technology, and other people and places. The total gain reported by men and women was nearly the same, but women reported significantly higher gains than men in the development of personal, social and vocational competencies whereas men reported significantly higher gains in quantitative thinking and understanding the nature and significance of the sciences, technology and history.

In the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education survey of alumni who graduated from one of the 14 State System campuses in December 1995, May 1996 or August 1996, former students were asked to rate how important they found various skills to be after graduation and the level of impact they believed their university had on each skill. The importance ranking of the various skills by Shippensburg students was similar to that of the State System. The importance ratings of these skills, however, were higher for Shippensburg graduates than for the system-wide alumni for every skill except the understanding of cultural diversity, which was lower. Interpersonal skills and computer literacy skills were much more important to Shippensburg alumni than alumni system-wide.

Shippensburg alumni gave their university higher impact ratings than did system-wide alumni on every skill, although the impact ranking of those skills was exactly the same. The largest differences in impact ratings between the campus and the State System were found in the ability to work in a team and interpersonal skills. The skills most important to Shippensburg alumni in order of importance were: oral and written communication, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, the ability to work with others on a team and computer literacy. Least important were leadership and quantitative skills and understanding cultural diversity. The rank and rating scores of the university's level of impact for each of the first four skills (communication, interpersonal, thinking and team skills) differed from the rank and rating of their importance, but together these four skills received alumni's highest ratings overall. The fifth skill-computer literacy-had the lowest impact rating of all eight for both campus and system alumni.

When performance gap scores were calculated by subtracting the level of impact from the level of importance, Shippensburg showed smaller gap scores than the State System norms for every skill. The smallest gap scores for Shippensburg and system alumni were for the understanding of cultural diversity and the possession of quantitative skills. These two small gap scores are a function of average impact ratings and low importance ratings. It appears that although all of the State System universities, including Shippensburg, increased their former students' understanding of cultural diversity and their quantitative skills, these skills were not considered as important as others by the alumni.

The largest gap scores for Shippensburg and the State System appeared for computer literacy, the result of an average importance rating together with a low impact rating. That is, alumni have found computer literacy to be a needed skill, but believe that their universities had limited impact on their development of this competency. Interpersonal skills showed the second-highest gap score among both groups of alumni. The large gap, in this case, resulted from an average impact rating paired with a very high importance rating. It seems that although both Shippensburg and system alumni felt that their universities had helped them develop their interpersonal skills, the impact was not equal to the need for these skills after college.

In the 1995 survey of Shippensburg alumni who graduated in 1992, former undergraduates were asked to rate the importance since they graduated and the level of impact the university had on their development of twenty-five skills or areas of knowledge. As in the State System alumni survey, the gap between importance and impact was then measured to determine the extent to which alumni believed their eventual needs were met by the university. Four results are salient: Just as in the case of the State System survey, the university was perceived to have had a greater impact upon the development of general skills than upon the acquisition of knowledge, particularly in the humanities and arts. Skills that alumni rated as being most important to them following graduation were the same skills for which the university was perceived to have had the greatest impact (although the rankings of the two differed slightly): time management, independence, decision making, teamwork, interpersonal, writing and leadership skills. Many of the areas of knowledge considered least important to alumni are those for which the university was perceived to have had the least impact. Not only were these areas of knowledge ranked least important and least developed at the university, the level of their ratings was also low (See Table One below).

The gap between importance and impact was significant for technological skills; they were moderately important to alumni but were not significantly impacted by the university. Again, however, these alumni would not have experienced the great improvements in the use of technology that have taken place in the past six years.

Table 10-1

Knowledge Alumni Consider Least Important to Know

Areas of Knowledge Least Developed While at the University




Computer Hardware









Foreign Language

Foreign Language

Alumni Employment and Post Baccalaureate Study. The campus survey of undergraduate alumni who graduated in 1992, administered three years after their graduation, also provides information about graduates' employment and continuing education. Almost eighty-four percent of the alumni respondents were employed full time. Only three percent were unemployed. Employment was in business (29 percent), education (26 percent), human services (14 percent), sales (13 percent), computers (11 percent), communications (8 percent), government (7 percent), and health care (7 percent). Alumni's average income in 1995 ranged between $20,000 and $30,000 annually. More than eighty percent of the alumni had a job within six months of graduation. Sixty-nine percent found employment within or related to their major field of study. More than eighty-five percent believed that Shippensburg had met or exceeded their expectations in preparing them for their first job.

Many alumni planned to continue their education. More than one-quarter had already enrolled in a college program; nearly seven out of ten of these have continued in their major field. While almost half of the alumni reported they had financial aid debt, eighty-eight percent believed that their college education was worth its cost.

The State System survey of alumni from the class of 1996 corroborates employment experiences reported by the 1992 class. Seventy-seven percent of Shippensburg and seventy-two percent of system alumni were employed full time at the time of the survey. Sixty-three percent of both groups reported being employed in their major field. Less than four percent were unemployed and seeking employment. Others were employed part-time, in the armed forces, continuing their education or not working by choice.

Approximately three-fourths of the Shippensburg and system alumni were employed in Pennsylvania. Almost one-quarter had already secured their first job prior to graduation; more than three-fourths were working six months after graduation and about 93 percent were working one year afterward. The largest number of graduates were employed in large organizations (those with 500 or more employees), followed by educational institutions and small organizations (those with less than 100 employees). Of those employed full-time, the most common earnings were between $20,000 and $30,000 annually.

Over 21 percent of the Shippensburg alumni and 22 percent of the system-wide alumni reported involvement in further education. Most of these alumni were enrolled in a graduate or first-professional program and nearly one third of them were studying in the field of education.

Changes in Students: The General Education Assessment Project. In studying change in students associated with their educational experiences at Shippensburg, Nelson and her colleagues in the General Education Assessment Project found that links exist between certain types of classroom experience in general education courses and desired changes in students. Three experiences that seemed to have the most positive and statistically significant effects on student learning were: required class attendance, group work and other engaging activities, and attendance at cultural events outside of class.

While educators and students often view class attendance policies as being disrespectful of students, the results of the Nelson study suggest that strict attendance policies not only increase attendance but also produce beneficial changes in Self Esteem, Need for Cognition and Universalism values (see Chapter Three). Similarly, the stricter the course policy encouraging attendance at cultural events, the more students increased in Performance Self Esteem and Tolerance for Ambiguity. Evidently, being exposed to events and speakers representing different points of view or to a professor who encouraged such exposure, was a mind-opening experience for students. Such experiences may also give students a better understanding of the world around them leading to more confidence in themselves. On the other hand, the stricter the cultural events policy, the more students decreased in the importance placed on Self-Direction values.

The effects of group work during class were overwhelmingly positive. The greater the proportion of time spent in group work, the more students increased in Need for Cognition and in the importance placed on Universalism, Benevolence, Achievement and Self-Direction values. These positive effects of work with peers may perhaps be explained by the fact that group work promotes active involvement with course material, opens students up to new ways of thinking and encourages them to respect and help their peers in the group. Other engaging classroom activities, such as audio/visual presentations, also increased Need for Cognition and Performance Self Esteem.

When students were exposed to classrooms in which the professor devoted a large proportion of class time to lecturing, statistically significant decreases in Need for Cognition, Performance Self Esteem and Tolerance for Ambiguity occurred. Again, active involvement with course materials can increase students' enjoyment of thinking, self-confidence and openness to different points of view, qualities the general education program is intended to cultivate and develop.

Based on their findings, the project researchers suggest that professors consider spending less time lecturing and more time on activities that get a class involved. Group work is especially beneficial, although students particularly low in Social Self-Esteem appear to experience work with peers as stressful, suggesting the need for professors to give attention to the promotion of positive and equitable group dynamics when they assign group work. For professors who are averse to requiring class attendance, giving students credit for class participation is another approach to the same end.

Given the amount of time professors spend deciding on exams, papers, quizzes and the amount of reading to assign, it is interesting that these had no positive impact on the qualities measured. While these elements of a class almost certainly influence the factual knowledge obtained by students, they had no positive impact on broader values and cognition styles.

Review of Student Achievement Findings. The Study Group on Student Learning and Development concluded that a combination of factors-effective support programs, a committed and well-qualified faculty, a positive campus climate and the character of the students themselves-function to ensure that a comparatively high percentage of Shippensburg students complete their degree at the university. Graduating seniors and alumni believe they have received a very good education at Shippensburg, one that has strengthened substantially their intellectual, interpersonal and career-related skills and competencies. The majority of alumni have found satisfying employment related to their fields of study and believe that the university prepared them well for their careers. Recent developments in student outcomes assessment in various departments (See Chapter Five) offer the promise of providing student achievement data of greater specificity to academic programs or majors.

The study group noted that, based on the self-reported gains of students and alumni, a few areas of student development require further study and assessment. Even fairly recent graduates continue to report a need for greater technological competency, especially in the form of computer literacy. This issue is addressed more fully in Chapter Eleven, Technology and Innovation. Secondly, although the general education program requires a two-semester course in world history, three additional courses in the humanities, and three courses in the natural sciences, students and alumni report limited gains in these areas of knowledge. On the other hand, these are also among the areas perceived by current and former students to be relatively unimportant to their careers and to their everyday lives. Both of these perceptions need further study by the present General Education Study Group.

Finally, the study group strongly advised that the Nelson General Education Assessment Project findings be shared more widely with the campus, that support for the research be continued and that the recommendations of the project, namely that more active learning strategies be used in the classroom and that student attendance in class and at cultural events be increased, either through required attendance policies or extra credit, be supported and implemented.

Program Reviews and Interviews 

In addition to reviewing the results of the university and State System surveys, the Nelson project and the Academic Climate Report, the study group conducted interviews with the directors and read the program reviews and annual reports of a large number of programs in the academic and student affairs areas. The results of this research and of the summer conversations are summarized below.

Instruction. A growing number of faculty, administrators and students are coming to believe that the way students are taught and learn is as important as what is taught. Since 1990, more than two million dollars from a variety of sources-campus, system, state and federal-have been awarded faculty for the enhancement of teaching. The focus has been the development of teaching strategies and techniques that more effectively motivate and help students learn. In some cases, like the mathematics program supported by the Whitaker Foundation grant, partnerships between school district and university faculty have been forged to improve teaching and learning in a single field spanning a student's entire education in the region. Each year since its inception in 1989, at least two faculty have attended the week-long Summer Academy for the Advancement of College Teaching sponsored by the State System. Academy graduates annually attend a two-day conference of advanced workshops and other sessions in which they can share experiences and other information on innovative teaching methods. This cadre of faculty sponsors, through the university's Professional Development Committee, one or more campus workshops on teaching and learning every year. The academy has had a substantial impact on faculty who have attended and over time has been one of the most important stimulants of instructional change in the campus's steady and increasingly evident transition to an institution focused on offering a varied repertoire of learning experiences appropriate to a wide range of learners. Graduates of the academy also form the core of the university's Teaching and Learning Center, established through an incentive grant from the State System in 1992. Recently, several graduates of the academy have reconstituted the center's advisory group and begun to implement new programs intended to assist faculty in enhancing the impact of their teaching.

Another catalyst for expanding faculty's use of and experimentation with diverse teaching techniques has been the new faculty orientation. For eight years, the orientation has been held for three days at the start of the year, two days of which are now spent off-campus at a nearby retreat and are devoted to learning about Shippensburg students, about ways of motivating and fostering student learning and about resources that are available to support faculty efforts to enhance their teaching effectiveness. The orientation is followed by thirteen 75-minute workshops held over the year on various subjects important to faculty, such as general education, the use of computer technologies, advising, and the inclusion of different cultural and gender perspectives in the curriculum. A recent survey of faculty hired within the past five years confirmed that faculty find the programming for new faculty very useful.

These and other programs have had the effect of changing the way many faculty perceive the relation between their instructional methods and student learning. The graph below, based on the results of the HERI faculty survey, shows how over time faculty have diversified their methods to include more than the traditional lecture.

At the same time, sophomores estimated that in one of the general education courses required of all freshmen, 83 percent of class time was spent listening to the professor lecture, 9 percent watching videos, films or slides or listening to tapes, 6 percent in class discussions and 1.5 percent working in small groups, according to the 1995 Nelson study. The study group concluded that if these estimates are reflective of the delivery of the majority of courses in the general education program, there is a need for increased encouragement of faculty use of more engaging learning experiences in the classroom.

General Education. As noted before, student and alumni surveys, as well as informal conversations with students, reveal a general lack of student appreciation for the general education program. Faculty concerns about the effectiveness of the program and suggestions for change arose in every one of the summer conversations. All participating agreed that the strengths and inadequacies of the current program play a pivotal role in the quality of education students receive at Shippensburg. Views differed as to how the program should be changed to better motivate students to engage in a broader range of knowledge. Some believe that the curriculum of the program should be changed whereas others think that when more faculty adopt and use a richer repertoire of teaching strategies, students will respond with more interest and effort. Suggestions for changing the program include organizing the curriculum around themes, expanding the clustered learning options to include all courses and students, developing interdisciplinary and capstone courses, separating all general education courses from introductions to the major and orienting the entire program toward problem-based learning. The General Education Study Group which is initiating the current review cycle of the program has been charged with the task of proposing a more effective program, one that is "more inspiring and engaging of students."

The study group encouraged an institutional review of the general education review process itself which is seen to have strengths and weaknesses. Although it ensures continuous review involving representation from all of the curricular divisions, the process is lengthy and time-consuming. Furthermore, some of the recommendations emanating from the process have been slow to be implemented, the most prominent of these being a required course in multiculturalism and a second composition course.

The study group also encouraged the completion of the general education assessment program which consists of three components: the Nelson General Education Assessment Project attitudinal study, a skills assessment, and an assessment of student learning in the general education areas of knowledge. The skills component, developed in 1997, is being implemented this year. The third component is to be developed this spring. Results of these assessments should better identify areas of the general education program that require closer review as well as those that are meeting program goals.

Honors Program. The Honors Program serves a small number of students (40 freshmen are admitted each year) and is exclusively a general education program. The retention rate of honors students is high, an ample number of faculty wish to teach in the program, class enrollments are small (limited to 20 each) and courses are clustered according to interdisciplinary themes which change from one semester to the next. Although an informative report is submitted annually by the program director, the program is undergoing its first formal program review, including the development of a formal assessment of student learning outcomes, this academic year. The study group concluded that the mission and goals of the program need to be reviewed and defined in terms that will facilitate the development and usefulness of student learning outcomes assessment. The number of students served and the resources required to support the program need to be carefully reviewed in the context of assessed outcomes. Finally, the program should play a more prominent and progressive role in furthering the development of a learning-centered environment on campus.

Developmental Programming. Overall, developmental programming at the university has been highly effective as evidenced by the comparatively high retention and graduation rates for both regular and specially admitted students. Strong presidential support, a substantial investment of resources, and a dedicated faculty and staff have been major contributors to the success of students who enter the university not fully prepared for college work. In recent years, growing pressures in certain areas, such as in services to students with learning disabilities, and changes in personnel, academic offerings and administration have raised questions about future directions. The study group and participants in the summer conversations concluded that, while most of the developmental areas have undergone program reviews or audits, a comprehensive review of all of them is advisable for the purpose of eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort and achieving greater collaboration, integration of services and coordination of activities.

The Learning Environment. The university has made extensive efforts to increase the diversity of its employees and student body, to assist and support minorities and international students in their adjustment to the university and the community and to sponsor every year a large number of multicultural activities and events to enrich the learning environment for students. Results of a recent campus survey, described in Chapter Three, suggest that the campus has made good progress in promoting general support for and achieving greater diversity in its environment but that efforts along these lines need to continue. Many participants in the summer conversations believed that more changes need to occur in the academic area to better accommodate needs of minority students, including students with disabilities, and to better prepare all students for life in a global, multicultural world. Opinions differed about the appropriate ways to accomplish these goals. Those involved in the summer conversations and members of the study group, however, generally agreed that the multicultural course requirement in general education needs to be implemented as soon as possible, that all faculty need to be encouraged and trained to use diverse teaching strategies to match the different styles of student learning, and that faculty and staff need to become better informed about and more effective in teaching and advising students of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds as well as students with disabilities. It was also agreed that recent efforts and initiatives to enhance the university's Study Abroad program and the number of students participating in it should be encouraged and supported, and that the university should explore and implement ways of increasing the number of international students on campus.

Collaboration between the Academic and Student Affairs Divisions. It was noted in the earlier analysis of student satisfaction that Shippensburg students place a fair amount of importance on whether or not the institution cares about them and report feeling a strong sense of belonging at Shippensburg. Much of this feeling is attributable to the President's personal style of interacting with students and the tone he sets on their behalf and to the commitment, expertise and style of the interaction of the Vice President of Student Affairs, the Dean of Students and most of their professional staff. The obvious regard that all of these individuals have for students and they for them accounts for much of the civility and goodwill that prevails among students and toward the university. (Student leadership year after year publicly and proudly contrasts the opportunities, advantages and responsibilities given to Shippensburg students with those given the student governance officers at sister campuses in the State System.) The positive atmosphere maintained by student affairs professionals and the high quality of the services provided contribute appreciably to the success of the academic mission of the university.

Most student affairs and academic affairs administrators and staff share the philosophy that the entire campus constitutes a learning environment and that students' character, interpersonal and leadership development occurs to a large extent outside the classroom-in the residence halls and in the various co-curricular organizations and activities sponsored by student affairs. Closer collaboration between faculty and professional staff from the two areas and their mutual development of a shared definition of student development would benefit student learning. As in all other university programs, those in student affairs undergo periodic review and offices routinely survey students and parents to solicit ideas for improving services and facilities. Different areas are beginning to develop formal assessment programs for evaluating student achievement and outcomes in relation to specified developmental goals and objectives. A collaborative formulation of student learning outcomes by the academic and student affairs professionals would help inform both areas about theories and findings pertaining to student learning and development. Areas for which students and alumni have reported some concern in satisfaction surveys include: weekend activities, multicultural affairs, health services, and financial aid. They may be areas where it would be most worthwhile initiating formal assessment.

In interviews with many of the program directors in student affairs, the need for additional resources-space, personnel and funding-to better carry out the responsibilities of their programs was mentioned. This may indicate a need for a comprehensive review of the current distribution and organization of responsibilities. The division has decided that a five-year plan for the automation of many functions throughout the Student Affairs division is needed and will be developed.

The Graduate Student Experience

When graduate student learning and development were discussed in the study group and the summer conversations, different views of the status and effectiveness of graduate programming at Shippensburg emerged. The results of student and alumni surveys, for example, showed a comparatively high level of satisfaction with the quality of graduate studies at Shippensburg. Similarly, professional accrediting bodies, such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teachers (NCATE) and the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), have repeatedly commended highly the quality of the programs they have reviewed for reaccreditation. In contrast, faculty participating in the study group and in the summer conversations expressed concern about what they perceive to be the marginal status of graduate programming, inadequate funding and administrative commitment, a slow or lack of responsiveness at all levels to programming needs of the community and a general confusion about how new programs get developed, approved and adequately funded. Several graduate students and some faculty appealed for larger stipends for graduate assistants. Faculty believed that larger stipends would attract more and better-prepared students to the campus, including more non-residential students. Students asserted they could not attend graduate school full time and subsist solely on the present stipend. This area of academic life clearly is a matter of concern to faculty, students and administrators associated with it.

When program reviews and the annual institutional Profile data for the last five years are reviewed, it becomes apparent that some distinction exists between programs that are exclusively graduate and accredited by a professional association and programs that are contained within departments that also offer undergraduate degrees and do not undergo a periodic review for the purposes of specialized accreditation. The former tend to have more explicit and focused goals, a larger number of majors and resources sufficient to support program goals and students. These differences perhaps account for some of the differing perspectives of the status and role of graduate programming at Shippensburg. The study group concluded that there is need for the development of a clearer definition of the role of graduate programming on campus, and a comprehensive review of current programs in light of this definition.

Student Satisfaction. During the 1997 spring semester, graduate students at the university were asked to fill out the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory, an instrument that measures student satisfaction with various aspects of their college experience. Students rated the level of importance of each aspect or expectation as well as their level of satisfaction with how well the expectation was being met.

Graduate student responses indicated that, out of the eleven areas queried, most important to students were Instructional Effectiveness and Academic Advising. Next in importance were Safety and Security, Concern for the Individual and Registration Effectiveness. These five were also the areas most important to graduate students nationwide.

Students were most satisfied with Instructional Effectiveness, Academic Advising and Concern for the Individual, three of the areas they identified as being most important. The Student Centeredness of the campus and its Climate were the next most satisfying areas, both areas of moderate importance to students. Least satisfying were Recruitment and Financial Aid, Campus Life and Safety and Security. The gap between their expectations and their satisfaction, however, was greatest for Safety and Security and Registration Effectiveness.

In general, graduate students reported even higher levels of satisfaction than undergraduate students. They were particularly more satisfied than undergraduates with Academic Advising at the high end of their satisfaction ratings and Registration Effectiveness and Safety and Security at the lower end.

Graduate students at Shippensburg reported greater satisfaction with their college experience than students at other, similar institutions. Shippensburg performance gaps (differences between importance and satisfaction) were lower on all scales than those at other institutions. Student Centeredness and Concern for the Individual were areas for which Shippensburg graduate students showed significantly higher levels of satisfaction. Other areas, such as Campus Climate and Instructional Effectiveness, were nearly as high. Even Safety and Security, an area of moderately high importance and low satisfaction, was an area of higher satisfaction at Shippensburg than elsewhere. As was the case for undergraduates, Safety and Security dissatisfaction largely involved parking.

Interpretation. When responses to specific questions making up the survey are examined, certain conclusions are warranted. For one, the aspects of graduate students considered most important were related to the classroom. Course content, quality of instruction, quality of faculty and availability of courses received highest priority. For another, student satisfaction with the quality of education they were receiving was high. The expertise and availability of faculty and students' ability to experience intellectual growth were particularly satisfying to graduate students. Finally, overall satisfaction with the university was high.

Several items, however, received low ratings. In particular, the use of the student activity fees, campus parking, the accessibility of computer labs and the orientation process for graduate students were matters of student concern.

Campus Follow-Up. Graduate student concerns about the use of student activity fees were investigated and it was found that graduate students were not very knowledgeable about how the fees are used. Steps have been taken to communicate this information more explicitly and effectively in the future. Parking on campus is being changed within a few years in connection with the new Master Plan for campus facilities. It remains to be seen whether student satisfaction will improve as a result. Several attempts were made by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning to convene a group of graduate students to further probe their concerns about the accessibility of computer labs, but the response to these contacts was one of disinterest. The needs of students in this area are further discussed in Chapter Eleven. The orientation for new graduate students has been greatly expanded and improved in collaboration with officers of the Graduate Student Association.

Scheduling, a matter of marked concern to undergraduates, was of some concern to graduate students. The university, in converting to a new database, will initiate online scheduling in the spring of 1999. In addition, a cap has been placed on the development of new courses and programs such that the institution of new ones must be accompanied by the discontinuation of old ones. This is to make certain that student progress toward the degree is unimpeded by an insufficient number of courses to enable students to fulfill program requirements.


When all of the available evidence is taken into consideration, it is clear that Shippensburg University undergraduate and graduate students receive a worthwhile education at the university, whether this is defined and measured by the expectations and interests of students or by the goals and standards of the university. Student and alumni satisfaction with their educational experience at Shippensburg is notably higher than that of students and alumni at comparable institutions. Achievement, as measured by retention and graduation rates, by surveys, and by employment success, is also comparatively high for Shippensburg students and alumni. Most compelling, perhaps, are the outcomes assessment data provided by the Nelson project that demonstrate significant and positive changes in students' learning styles and habits as a consequence of their education at the university.

While participants in the self-study have been generally satisfied with the success of Shippensburg students and alumni, they also have taken note of many opportunities to enhance the university's impact on student learning and development. These opportunities are incorporated in the recommendations that follow. Most important among them, many believe, is the recommendation that greater effort be made to encourage and assist faculty in further developing their abilities to motivate and help students learn. As the student conversation in the preface so vividly conveyed and the CIRP and Nelson project data confirmed, on average, Shippensburg undergraduates enter the university with relatively low motivation to learn. The Nelson data also made clear, however, that the solution to this challenge lies substantially within the purview of the faculty. More than any other factor, the development of greater expertise in using a variety of strategies that actively involve student participation will enhance student learning and development.


  1. Enhance the development of faculty expertise in the use of diverse teaching techniques that complement the different learning styles of students. For example:

    1. Request that the Faculty Professional Development Committee, in conjunction with the new Teaching Center advisory group, develop a five-year plan for encouraging and assisting in the development of that expertise.
    2. Offer incentives to faculty for developing and using effective classroom assessment programs.
    3. Ensure that, in accordance with the faculty contract, evaluations of instructional faculty are focused appropriately on the evidence of effective teaching and learning.
  2. Review the general education program within the current three-year cycle for ways to make it more "inspiring and engaging." For example:

    1. Clarify the purpose and role of general education.
    2. Incorporate more active student learning experiences.
    3. Provide more integrative, interdisciplinary opportunities.
    4. Utilize a wide variety of scheduling modules and patterns.
  3. Clarify and strengthen the role of graduate programming by:

    1. Appointing an ad hoc committee of faculty, administrators and students that will:
      1. Formulate and recommend a clear definition of the role and purpose of graduate programming and a set of criteria for assessing the effectiveness of graduate programs.
      2. Review and recommend changes in the role and functioning of the Graduate Council and the administration of graduate programs.
    2. Conducting a comprehensive review of graduate programs on campus, using current program review structures and policies together with the criteria formulated by the ad hoc committee once approved.
  4. Charge the International Studies Advisory Group to develop a plan that will enable students to gain a more global perspective, increase receptivity to ideas different from their own, and extend their ability to interact effectively with people from other countries and cultures. They should explore and recommend:

    1. Ways to enhance study abroad opportunities.
    2. Strategies to increase the number of international students on campus.
  5. Form a developmental education committee with broad representation from academic and student affairs to build on the recent consultant's report on developmental education and examine ways to improve the efficiency and effective delivery of the program. For example:

    1. Define more clearly the role of developmental education at the university.
    2. Recommend ways to enhance student retention, eliminate duplication of effort, increase collaboration among faculty and staff, and integrate services.
  6. Identify a series of activities that might enhance minority student retention and success. These should include ways to:

    1. Revitalize recruitment efforts for underrepresented minorities among students, staff, faculty and administrators.
    2. Improve communication links among the various programs involved in minority student retention and graduation.
    3. Develop, under the leadership of the Social Equity Office, a clear, accessible and effective process for identifying and responding to incidents of discrimination and racism among members of the campus community.
    4. Implement, through the Human Resources Office, a program that will improve working relations among all members of the campus community.
  7. Enhance the role and effectiveness of the Honors Program. For instance:

    1. Have the program conduct a thorough self-study with wide consultation of students, faculty and administrators.
    2. Reformulate the mission and goals of the program in terms that will permit the development of a useful student learning outcomes assessment program.
    3. Develop and implement an effective student learning outcomes assessment program.
    4. Craft a five-year plan related to the reformulated mission and goals with an associated budget request.
  8. Respond effectively to continued student concerns about the advising and scheduling processes, by forming an ad hoc committee to thoroughly review the current status of advising and student mentoring programs on campus, assess and monitor the implementation of the new on-line/scheduling process and make recommendations for improvement of both processes.

  9. Develop the means for achieving greater collaboration between academic and student affairs for the purpose of better implementing a holistic view of student learning and development. For example:

    1. Form a team of faculty and professional staff from each of the areas to develop a common understanding or definition of student development.
    2. Develop common student development outcomes to be used by both areas in program planning and assessment.
  10. More fully institutionalize and integrate into the planning processes of the academic and student affairs areas student learning outcomes assessment. Various units of the university should:

    1. Continue the development of a performance-based outcomes assessment program for general education.
    2. Strengthen the assessment of majors and minors.
    3. Continue support for the Nelson attitudinal assessment.
    4. Develop an outcomes assessment strategy in each of the Student Affairs programs.
Contact the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment 1871 Old Main Drive Shippensburg, PA 17257 Phone: 717-477-1154 Fax: (717) 477-4077