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Chapter 3 - Student Profile

While students apply and are admitted from many other countries and states, Shippensburg University serves primarily residents of Pennsylvania. Ninety-four percent of its 6741 students are from within the Commonwealth, nearly half of them from the neighboring counties of Cumberland, Franklin, Dauphin, York, Adams and Lancaster.

Still one of the most populous states in the nation with a relatively strong economy at present, Pennsylvania is expected to show some of the country's slowest population growth in the coming decade. Much of that growth will be among its elderly who are projected to increase by at least five percent within the next twenty-five years. The number of graduating high school students has recently begun to climb after a decade of decline; most of the increase, however, has fallen outside the university's traditional service area. Despite fluctuations in the available pool of traditional student applicants, the university has maintained a relatively stable student population for over ten years, largely by intensifying and expanding its range of recruitment efforts and by meticulously managing enrollments. Plans are to sustain the current level and programmatic configuration of student enrollments well into the coming decade.

The Undergraduate Student

The demographic character of the undergraduate student body, consisting of about 5700 students, has not changed markedly in the last decade, a reflection for the most part of the region served. Students remain predominately Caucasian (93 percent), 18-21 years of age (64 percent), residential (35 percent living on campus, 27 percent in town), full-time (95 percent) and from southcentral Pennsylvania (48 percent). The average SAT score of freshmen entering in 1997 was 1037 and seventy percent of those entering had graduated in the upper two-fifths of their high school class. Of the regularly admitted freshmen, as a result of placement testing, more than one-half are required to take at least one developmental course at the university. Sixty-five percent enter the university with a declared major but within three years forty-five percent of them shift to another major. Almost 77 percent receive some form of financial aid. More than six out of ten entering freshmen eventually graduate (Chapter 10). Fifty-two percent leave with a degree in one of the arts and sciences; the remainder possess a professional degree (30 percent in education, 18 percent in business). Seventy percent find jobs related to their major within twelve months of graduation.

While the broad demographic profile depicts a relatively homogeneous student body, focusing on specific subgroups of students reveals an increase in diversity in recent years. During the 1997-98 academic year, a total of 345 students identified themselves as minority: African American 207, Hispanic 70, Asian 58 and American Indian 10. This number represents an increase of thirty percent compared to the number enrolled five years ago. More than four hundred students older than twenty-five enrolled as undergraduates, a number that has been slowly but steadily increasing over the past decade. A total of 264 students were enrolled in ACT 101, a program designed to help socioeconomically disadvantaged students succeed in college, representing a ten percent increase over the past four years. Also growing in number are students with disabilities. They have increased in number by one hundred and twenty-three percent since 1994 and now comprise almost three percent of the total student enrollment.


Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). Every other year during orientation, since 1975, incoming first-year students participate in the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), a national survey designed to obtain information on entering freshmen backgrounds, attitudes, activities, self perceptions, values, expectations and goals. When Shippensburg students' responses are compared to those of students at other public, comprehensive universities across the nation, useful insights are gained regarding the characteristics that distinguish incoming freshmen at Shippensburg.

Although they are mostly in-state residents, on average new students at Shippensburg come from farther away to attend college than their norm group counterparts, and Shippensburg students are more often first generation college students. Family incomes are somewhat similar between the two groups, but more parents of the norm group earn over $75,000 annually. More Shippensburg students come from two-parent households than the national average.

With regard to behavior in their senior year of high school, more entering Shippensburg students attended religious services, drank beer and felt bored in class. Fewer Shippensburg students performed volunteer work or felt depressed. Less than 27 percent of the Shippensburg students spent six or more hours during a typical week studying. High school grades indicated that Shippensburg students more often earned a B average, while students in the norm group more commonly earned As and Cs. While fewer new students at Shippensburg believed they would earn at least a B average in college, graduate with honors or be satisfied with college, more stated that they would remain at their chosen college and graduate on time.

New students at Shippensburg felt better about their physical and emotional health than did the comparison group, but felt less certain about their academic ability, leadership skills, writing ability and overall intellectual self confidence. Incoming Shippensburg students lagged behind their norm group counterparts most significantly in perceived writing ability.

Overall, new students at Shippensburg were found to be more politically conservative than the norm. While views were similar with respect to health care costs and the legalization of marijuana, fewer Shippensburg students felt that abortion should be legal and more felt that there should be laws prohibiting homosexual relations. Regarding values, more Shippensburg students believed it was very important to become financially well off, raise a family and influence social values. On the other hand, fewer incoming Shippensburg students felt that it was important to become an authority in their field, influence the political structure or develop a meaningful philosophy of life. A higher percentage of students at the national level intended to earn a doctoral degree than at Shippensburg.

More new students at Shippensburg chose to go to college because they wanted to obtain a better job or make more money, or because their parents wanted them to go, compared to the norm group. Fewer Shippensburg students were interested in learning more, receiving a general education, improving their reading and studying skills or becoming a more cultured person. Fewer Shippensburg students chose their university because its graduates go on to top graduate schools, the college is close to home, or financial assistance is available, while more chose Shippensburg because of its low tuition, its graduates' competitiveness in getting good jobs and its good academic reputation.

Nelson General Education Assessment Project. The General Education Assessment Project, begun in 1993 by Dr. Lori Nelson, Shippensburg professor of psychology, and several of her students, provides additional insight into the attitudes and values of Shippensburg students. The purpose of the project has been to develop a fuller understanding of entering freshmen and to assess the effectiveness of the general education program in effecting desired changes in them. Dr. Nelson and her colleagues concluded from in-depth interviews of faculty and academic administrators that the present general education program was designed so that students would become well-rounded individuals with a broad background of knowledge; the program was also intended to foster curiosity, aspiration, critical thinking, creative problem solving, openness to change and willingness to examine new ideas. The following variables, based on previous psychological research, were selected for use in the project: Need for Cognition, Tolerance for Ambiguity, Values (such as Universalism, Benevolence, Achievement and Self-Direction), Self-Esteem and Emotional Empathy. Data collection began in 1993.

Need for Cognition refers to the extent to which an individual engages in and enjoys effortful thought. Individuals who are high in Need for Cognition are intrinsically motivated to think in depth about issues and events and seek situations that require cognitive effort, whereas individuals who are low in Need for Cognition are "cognitive misers" who do not enjoy thinking and will go out of their way to avoid cognitive effort. Research has shown that a high Need for Cognition contributes to academic success. Comparison of the mean Need for Cognition score for entering freshmen to mean scores found in other samples reveals that Shippensburg students are fairly low in Need for Cognition although their scores may be typical of freshmen at public comprehensive universities. In the 1993 cohort of entering freshmen, females scored higher than males in Need for Cognition. Entering freshmen that were higher in Need for Cognition achieved higher GPAs in both the fall and the spring semesters and better grades in World History, a course taken by all freshmen that requires a large amount of reading and extensive writing.

Tolerance of Ambiguity. Intolerance for ambiguity is defined as the tendency to feel threatened or uncomfortable with ambiguity. Individuals who do tolerate ambiguity tend to be flexible, creative, open to new ideas, and able to examine ideas from different perspectives. Intolerance for ambiguity is associated with authoritarianism and an orientation toward single "right answers." Because interaction among people of varying backgrounds is becoming more commonplace in our society, the openness and flexibility associated with tolerance for ambiguity are increasingly necessary for individual and organizational success. Shippensburg freshmen scored low in Tolerance for Ambiguity although their scores are again equivalent to those found in recent samples of public comprehensive university students. Consistent with previous research, females also had significantly higher scores on the Tolerance for Ambiguity scale. Entering freshmen that were higher in Tolerance for Ambiguity tended to achieve higher GPAs during their first semester and performed better in General Psychology.

Values are guiding principles in an individual's life that transcend specific situations and determine the selection and evaluation of behaviors and events. The four value domains considered most relevant to the goals of general education were as follows: Universalism: appreciation, understanding, and acceptance of oneself, of others, and of the surrounding world; Benevolence: protection and enhancement of the welfare of others with whom one comes into contact on a day-to-day basis; Self-Direction: independent thought and action; and Achievement: success, achievement, and competence.

Freshmen placed the most importance on Benevolence values, which emphasize concern for the well being of others through true friendship, loyalty, honesty, and helpfulness. In this respect, freshmen are similar to non-student adults in the area. Everyone needs the support of close relationships, and incoming freshmen indicated that this is what they value most. Freshmen placed much less importance on Universalism, another value domain related to concern for others. With lower Universalism scores, freshmen showed less concern for humanity as a whole and were not especially appreciative of different cultures and viewpoints. Compared to students at a more selective Ivy League university, Shippensburg students placed an equivalent amount of importance on Benevolence, but they placed much less importance on Universalism.

A close second to Benevolence in importance to freshmen is Hedonism, pleasure and enjoyment of life. A reason for this strong emphasis on Hedonism was probably their young age, but having a good time is also a route to making and cementing relationships with friends. Shippensburg students placed somewhat more emphasis on Hedonism than their counterparts at an Ivy League university. Achievement and Self-Direction were the third and fourth most important values to freshmen. Although they placed less importance on Self-Direction and slightly less importance on Achievement than did students at an Ivy League university, they placed more importance on values in these two domains than did adults in surrounding communities of southcentral Pennsylvania. Evidently, many freshmen are ambitious and looking forward to becoming successful. However, the greater importance placed on Benevolence and Hedonism suggests that there may be values conflict (i.e., socializing and entertainment or family obligations versus studying) that resulted in many freshmen achieving less than what they had expected when they began the semester. One of the two least important values to freshmen was Tradition, consisting of respect for and acceptance of traditional religion and culture. Power values were the least important of all to freshmen although they placed more importance on Power than did adults in the regional area. This indicates that social status and control and dominance over others are not major concerns of freshmen, or, at least, other things are much more important to them.

Females placed more emphasis than did males on Benevolence, Universalism, and Self-Direction. Males placed more emphasis than did females on Power values. (These gender differences in Benevolence, Universalism and Power values are consistent with other research.)

As the importance placed by freshmen on Hedonism and Stimulation values increased, their grades tended to decrease. High Hedonism values may partly explain why 19 percent of freshmen in the study were placed on academic probation (GPA less than 2.0) at the end of their first semester. They may not have gotten as much pleasure and enjoyment out of their classes as they got from other activities and consequently did not put forth the effort necessary to achieve passing grades. Placing emphasis on Power values was also negatively correlated with fall semester GPAs. Although most freshmen did not place much emphasis on Power values such as social power and wealth, those who did performed more poorly than their peers, especially in General Psychology. Placing emphasis on Security values was also negatively correlated with fall semester GPAs. But those freshmen who placed more importance on Security also tended to improve their GPAs, doing better in the spring semester than they had in the fall.

Self-Esteem refers to an individual's attitude toward the self. Individuals who are high in self-esteem have a positive attitude toward themselves; they think that they are worthwhile human beings and feel a sense of competence and confidence. Individuals who are low in self-esteem have either a negative or neutral attitude toward themselves; they are insecure about their abilities, feel that they don't measure up to others, and are especially worried that other people may have a negative view of them. The research assessed Performance Self-Esteem, which reflects self-confidence about academic abilities, and Social Self-Esteem. Shippensburg freshmen were higher in Performance Self-Esteem than they were in Social Self-Esteem, which is typical of college students. But Shippensburg students seemed to have somewhat lower levels of self-esteem than did students at more selective universities. In fact, the average Social Self-Esteem score was slightly below average, indicating that entering freshmen lacked social confidence and were afraid of what others think of them. There were no gender differences in Performance Self-Esteem or Social Self-Esteem. Interestingly, performance self-esteem of entering freshmen did not predict academic performance; however, high social self-esteem predicted poorer academic performance. Changes in self-esteem and academic performance did relate to one another: Freshmen who achieved higher grade point averages during their first semester understandably showed greater increases in Performance Self-Esteem. Doing well in World History I was also associated with increased Performance Self-Esteem, whereas doing well in General Psychology was not; this differential effect probably reflects most students' perception that World History I is more challenging than General Psychology.

Emotional Empathy involves a skill in understanding the feelings, thoughts and motives of other people, and often also involves sharing others' emotional experiences vicariously. Empathic understanding, the ability and willingness to take the perspective of another, provides an antidote for inhumanity by promoting caring, altruism, and positive interpersonal interactions. Entering freshmen are neither high nor low in Emotional Empathy compared to other groups. Females had significantly higher scores on the Emotional Empathy scale. For the 1993 cohort, after the first semester of the freshman year there was a small increase in Emotional Empathy and this small increase was maintained after three semesters.


Shippensburg undergraduates come to the university having demonstrated in national testing and high school performance that they have the ability and preparation necessary to undertake successfully a college education. Most arrive at Shippensburg, however, with a "non-academic" cognitive style. They tend not to seek out opportunities for effortful thought and are not very tolerant of new and differing ideas. They do place fairly strong emphasis on achievement values such as success and competence. Achievement is defined to a large extent in terms of job-seeking and financial success.

In the Nelson General Education Assessment Project surveys, freshmen place the most importance on Benevolence, confirming perceptions by faculty and others that Shippensburg students are exceptionally helpful and loyal to their family and friends. They place much less emphasis on Universalism values, suggesting that this concern for others does not extend to people with different backgrounds or to the larger world. Benevolence values are only slightly more important to these students than Hedonism values, indicating that fun and enjoyment supersede almost all other values for our freshmen. This has obvious implications for the low priority students are likely to place on learning. Female freshmen are more likely than males to reflect the cognitive and motivational orientation that the general education program was designed to instill or enhance and, in turn, show greater academic success.

Finally, Shippensburg students enter the university feeling less secure about their intellectual and social abilities than students elsewhere. Although differences in self-esteem did not predict differences in academic success in the 1993 cohort, other research has shown that high self esteem is linked both to academic success at all age levels as well as to success in other areas of life. Thus, our students' greater uncertainty about themselves is as much a factor to be considered when attempting to enhance the campus's learning environment as are cognition and motivation.

Results of the CIRP and the Nelson General Education Assessment Project help interpret the conversation among students and the Dean of Students reported in the preface to this self-study and support the need to stimulate student interest in learning. That goal constitutes a significant institutional challenge.

The Graduate Student

Like the undergraduate population, most of Shippensburg's graduate students (92 percent) are residents of Pennsylvania. In a total of 1016 students during the 1997/98 academic year, 937 were from in-state with over half from southcentral Pennsylvania. For the past five years the number of graduate students in attendance has been almost constant.

In contrast to the undergraduates, seventy-seven percent of Shippensburg graduate students are part-time, taking an average of 3.4 years to graduate. Over fifty percent study in an area of the human services (teacher education, criminal justice, educational administration and counseling). Twenty-seven percent of the graduate student body received their bachelor's degree from Shippensburg, twenty-one percent from a sister campus in the State System of Higher Education and slightly more than eight percent from Pennsylvania State University. Most of the students are Caucasian (91.5 percent), between 30 and 35 years of age and employed. One hundred sixty-five of the full-time graduate students are employed by the university as graduate assistants who work in academic departments, as residence assistants and for many other student service and administrative areas on campus.

Graduate students views about their education at Shippensburg are described in Chapter Ten.

Contact the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment 1871 Old Main Drive Shippensburg, PA 17257 Phone: 717-477-1154 Fax: (717) 477-4077