Your First College Year Survey
Office of Institutional Research
Mary Ann Weaver
September 2002

Introduction and method

In April of 2002, all first-year students were asked to complete the Your First College Year (YFCY) Survey.  This survey is part of a national study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute to provide valuable information on the academic, social, and personal development of first-year college students.  It is designed as a follow-up survey to the annual Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey that is administered at the beginning of their first year.

We received responses from 178 students.  This report also includes comparative data from other private four-year colleges.

Results

The CIRP survey reported activities engaged in by students the year prior to coming to college.  The YFCY survey then asked the students how often they had engaged in these same activities during their first year of college.  Table 1 shows the percentage of students who participated in various activities or felt a certain way.

TABLE 1

Activities

Earlham

Other 4-yr colleges

The year before college

During first year of college

During first year of college

 

%

%

%

Attended a religious service

75

51

62

Participated in organized demonstrations

53

52

39

Smoked cigarettes*

10

12

10

Drank beer

52

69

59

Drank wine or liquor

65

77

63

Felt overwhelmed by all you had to do*

35

39

38

Felt depressed

12

12

11

Participated in volunteer or community service work

90

67

64

Discussed politics*

47

39

14

Socialized with someone of another racial/ethnic group*

75

78

60

Discussed religion*

42

39

28


*Percentage responding “frequently” only.  All other results represent the percentage responding “frequently” or “occasionally”

It is interesting to note that there was a much smaller percentage of Earlham students who spent time participating in volunteer or community service work during their first year at Earlham compared to the year before they came to college.  Similar results were shown for attending religious services and discussing politics or religion.  The percentage of Earlham students who smoked cigarettes frequently and drank alcoholic beverages occasionally or frequently increased after spending a year on campus.  There were also more Earlham students drinking and smoking than students from other 4-year colleges.  It is surprising to see that participation in organized demonstrations did not increase.

How did the first-year students spend their time? 

TABLE 2
Time spent during a typical week

Activity

0-5 hours

6-15 hours

15-30 hours

Over 30 hours

Attending classes/labs

7.3

44.7

46.3

1.7

Studying/homework

27.0

47.8

22.4

2.8

Socializing with friends

13.1

44.3

27.9

14.8

Exercising or sports

60.1

35.1

4.6

.6

Partying

79.0

17.1

2.2

1.7

Working on campus

66.7

27.7

5.6

0

Working off campus

93.5

5.1

1.1

0

Participating in student clubs/groups

92.1

6.8

1.1

0

Watching TV

9.9

1.1

0

0

Reading for pleasure

97.8

1.7

.6

0

Commuting

98.9

.6

0

.6

Playing video/computer games

91.6

5

2.8

.6

Praying/meditating

99.5

.6

0

0

Surfing the Internet

89.8

8.5

1.2

.6

Communicating via e-mail

87.6

11.2

.6

.6

As can be expected, the majority of students spend much of their time attending classes or studying.  The survey also revealed that there are few students who spend much time watching TV.  In fact 57% of them reported watching no TV.  There are also not very many students interested in spending leisure time on the computer.  However 14.8% of the students indicated that they spend over 30 hours a week socializing with friends.

How do these statistics compare with students from other colleges?  Only 13.7% of the first-year students at all private four-year colleges reported watching no TV. Their time spent attending classes and studying was very similar to the Earlham data.   Time spent studying differed only in the 15-30 hours category where 22.4% of the Earlham first-year students spent that much time studying and only 14.2% of the first-year students at other private four-year colleges reported the same.

Data in Table 3 indicates that Earlham students are more likely than students from other colleges to speak up in class and to frequently discuss course content with students outside of class.  Earlham students are also more likely to turn in course assignments late and come to class late.  There is a significant difference in the percentage of Earlham students who turn in course assignments that did not reflect their best work compared to students from other colleges.  First-year students from other colleges were more likely to frequently use the Internet for research or homework, whereas Earlham first-year students were more likely to study with other students.  The data indicates Earlham students’ interest for sports, as 41% of these first-year students reported that they frequently participated in intramural sports compared to 31% of students from other colleges.

TABLE 3
Percentage of students who frequently…

Earlham

Other private 4-yr colleges

 

%

%

Turned in course assignments late

32

17

Spoke up in class

41

32

Discussed course content with students outside of class

58

41

Studied with other students

85

75

Came late to class

50

30

Skipped class

34

29

Received tutoring

24

23

Worked with a professor on a research project

13

15

Used the Internet for research or homework

42

57

Turned in course assignments that did not reflect your best work

72

49

Participated in intramural sports

41

31

Had difficulty getting along with your roommate(s)

33

31

Sought personal counseling

9

8

Table 4 shows the percentage of students who reported “frequent” inclusion of certain activities in the courses they took during their first year at college.  Based on student responses, it is clear that Earlham courses include much more opportunity for group discussions and projects than other private college courses.  Student presentations and performances as well as labs are also more likely to be part of an Earlham course.  It is not very likely that students will be required to have on-line interaction with the professor or classmates.

TABLE 4
Frequently included these in courses

Earlham

Other private 4-yr colleges

 

%

%

Group discussions

79

45

Student presentations or performances

34

21

Formal lectures

54

51

Research projects

17

18

Multiple drafts of written work

28

35

Group projects

26

18

Weekly essay assignments

32

29

Student evaluations of each other’s work

12

13

Field experience or internship

6

5

Community service linked to coursework

7

5

Student-selected topics

12

9

Laboratory component

24

18

Required on-line interaction with professors and/or classmates

7

16

Students were asked how often they interacted with various groups of people.  A higher percentage of Earlham students reported having daily contact with faculty outside of class or office hours compared to all private four-year colleges.  Time spent with faculty during office hours and academic advisors or counselors was very similar to other colleges, however 24% of Earlham students reported interacting daily with “other college personnel” compared to only 9% of students from other colleges.  Earlham students were less likely to be in contact with their families daily.  Thirty-one percent of students from other colleges had daily contact with their family compared to 10% of Earlham students.

SELF RATINGS

During New Student Week, students were asked to rate their abilities, skills, and health on the CIRP Survey.  At the end of the first year of college students were asked to rate these same items.  Table 5 shows the percentage of students who rated themselves “above average” or “highest 10%” compared with the average person their age.

TABLE 5

Self ratings

Earlham

Other 4-yr colleges

Entering college

After one year of college

After one year of college

 

%

%

%

Academic ability

78

74

62

Artistic ability

46

48

29

Computer skills

24

28

38

Emotional health

51

60

57

Leadership ability

62

58

60

Mathematical ability

31

31

39

Physical health

53

53

54

Public speaking ability

43

47

38

Self-confidence (intellectual)

61

64

59

Self-confidence (social)

49

58

54

Self-understanding

65

72

62

Writing ability

60

62

50

It appears that Earlham students modestly improved their social self-confidence and their self-understanding during their first year. 

Students were asked to indicate if their skills had improved compared with college entry.  Table 6 shows their responses.

TABLE 6

Percentage of students who noted “much stronger” skills compared with college entry

Earlham

Other private 4-yr colleges

 

%

%

General knowledge

21

17

Analytical and problem-solving skills

8

9

Knowledge of a particular field or discipline

33

23

Critical thinking skills

17

12

Knowledge of people from different races/cultures

32

15

Religious beliefs and convictions

6

10

Ability to get along with others

11

15

Library/research skills

8

9

Ability to work as part of a team

5

8

Understanding of the problems facing your community

11

7

Understanding of national issues

16

11

Understanding of global issues

24

12

The greatest increase in skills was noted in their knowledge of people from different races/cultures and understanding of global issues.  These percentages were also significantly higher than those from other private colleges.


Comparisons can also be made as to objectives that the students considered to be essential or very important upon entering college and after one year of college.  The following table shows the percentage of students who considered these objectives to be “essential” or “very important”.

TABLE 7

Objective considered to be “essential” or “very important”

Earlham

Other 4-yr colleges

Entering college

After one year of college

After one year of college

 

%

%

%

Becoming an authority in my field

53

57

71

Influencing social values

56

63

62

Helping others who are in difficulty

71

78

78

Making a theoretical contribution to science

17

20

16

Creating artistic work

31

43

22

Developing a meaningful philosophy of life

68

77

53

Helping to promote racial understanding

55

67

48

Becoming a community leader

39

43

48

Integrating spirituality into my life

45

49

54

After one year at Earlham, a greater percentage of students consider all of these objectives to be very important or essential.  First-year students at Earlham are less concerned with becoming an authority in their field than students from other colleges.  They are more concerned with developing a meaningful philosophy of life and helping promote racial understanding. 

SATISFACTION

The survey asked students to rate their satisfaction with various parts of their college experience.  Table 8 indicated that 80.3% of the Earlham first-year students rated their overall college experience as satisfied or very satisfied.  It appears that Earlham first-year students are more satisfied than students from other colleges with the amount of contact they have with faculty, opportunities available for community service, and the overall quality of instruction.  Earlham faculty members have been more successful than faculty at other colleges in making the coursework relevant to everyday life and to the students’ future.


TABLE 8

Percentage of students who noted they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with…

Earlham

Other private 4-yr colleges

 

%

%

Amount of contact with faculty

89.1

77.9

Opportunities for community service

73.7

57.5

Relevance of coursework to everyday life

71.9

58.8

Relevance of coursework to future

78.0

70.1

Overall quality of instruction

88.1

80.1

Overall sense of community among students

73.6

70.7

Overall college experience.

80.3

79.7

Ninety-one percent of Earlham students reported that the courses they took during their first year of college inspired them to think in new ways.  Seventy-eight percent of students from other colleges reported the same.  Sixty-two percent of Earlham students felt that their social life interfered with their schoolwork compared to 48% of students from other colleges.

Students were asked to rate their satisfaction with other aspects of the campus.  The percentage of students who indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied is shown in Table 9.

TABLE 9
“Satisfied” or “Very Satisfied” with…

Earlham

Other private 4-yr colleges

 

%

%

Classroom facilities

77.5

82.2

Computer facilities

79.4

77.6

Library facilities/services

85.4

78.4

Tutoring or other academic assistance

62.7

65.9

Academic advising

61.9

66.2

Student housing facilities

42.7

50.8

Financial aid services

50.3

51.4

Student health center/services

58.2

56.1

Psychological counseling services

43.6

45.2

Recreational facilities

69.2

66.5

Orientation for new students

71.6

65.7

There are a smaller percentage of Earlham students who are satisfied with housing facilities compared to students from other colleges.  However, the Earlham students were more satisfied with their orientation and with library facilities and services than students from other colleges.

We chose to add supplemental questions to this survey.  These questions are unique to Earlham and therefore we did not receive comparison results to other colleges.

The students were asked to rate Earlham on several characteristics based on their first year experience.  The most popular responses have been highlighted in Table 10.  The mean score is also calculated.  The rating scale used was:             1 = poor/fair; 2 = good; 3 = very good; 4 = excellent.

Most students rated most of these characteristics very good or good.  Based on the mean scores, personal attention to students was rated the highest.  Thirty-five percent of the students rated this characteristic as excellent. 

Also rated high was the chance to be with students from different backgrounds.  Thirty-three percent of the students rated this trait as excellent.  Earlham’s academic reputation was rated high, although the students gave a somewhat lower rating to Earlham as an environment that stresses academic excellence.  The attractiveness of the campus, opportunities for involvement in college governance and quality of academic facilities were rated fairly high. 

The characteristics that were rated as poor or fair by many of the students were their support for varsity athletics, the quality of housing, and the cost to their family.   

The students’ perception of the cost to their family appears to be a major concern for many students.  Thirty-two percent rated that characteristic as poor/fair and the mean rating was 2.0.  However 25% of the students rated cost to their family as very good or excellent.

Access to off-campus cultural and recreational opportunities received a poor rating from 30% of these students. It is assumed that the students interpreted “off-campus” as the Richmond/Dayton/Indianapolis/Cincinnati communities rather than international opportunities.

As we suspected, there are many students at Earlham who do not support varsity athletics.  The self-rating of support of athletics for 30% of the first year students was poor/fair.  The mean rating for athletic support was only 2.1.


TABLE 10
SATISFACTION RATINGS
Characteristic

Poor/Fair

Good

Very Good

Excellent

Can’t rate

Mean

 

%

%

%

%

%

 
Academic reputation

1.6

25.0

46.8

19.1

4.3

2.9

Chance to be with students from different backgrounds

4.3

23.9

34.0

33.0

1.6

3.0

Availability of special academic programs

5.3

33.5

30.3

13.8

13.8

2.6

Personal attention to students

2.1

23.4

35.1

35.6

.5

3.1

Quality of academic facilities

4.8

27.7

47.3

16.5

.5

2.8

Availability of recreational facilities on campus

11.7

25.0

40.4

18.6

1.1

2.7

Quality of on-campus housing

25.5

44.7

22.9

2.7

1.1

2.0

Environment that stresses academic excellence

5.9

43.1

28.2

17.6

2.7

2.6

Attractiveness of campus

6.9

27.7

42.0

19.1

1.6

2.8

Cost to your family

32.4

35.1

17.0

8.5

3.7

2.0

Availability of academic majors

9.6

34.6

36.2

14.9

2.1

2.6

Quality of social life

12.2

31.4

36.7

17.0

2.7

2.6

Access to off-campus cultural and recreational opportunities

30.3

33.5

17.6

10.1

5.3

2.1

Value of the price

10.1

38.3

35.6

9.0

4.3

2.5

Opportunities for involvement in College Governance

3.2

29.3

34.0

16.5

14.4

2.8

Quality of the community in your Residence Hall

12.8

29.3

31.4

21.8

2.1

2.7

Maintenance/housekeeping responsiveness to Residence Hall problems

14.4

41.5

24.5

12.2

4.8

2.4

Quality of engagement during conflicts in Residence Halls

11.2

38.3

22.9

7.4

17.6

2.3

Effectiveness of the “roommate agreement”

19.7

20.2

20.2

15.4

21.8

2.4

Level of your support for varsity athletics on campus

30.3

22.9

19.7

10.1

14.4

2.1

Quality of the varsity sport program if you played varsity sports

8.0

14.4

13.8

5.3

50.5

2.4

Most Earlham students reported feeling completely successful or fairly successful at understanding what their professors expected of them academically.  They feel they have adjusted to the academic demands of college and have developed close friendships with other students.  These feelings were similar to those of students from other private colleges.  There are a greater percentage of first-year Earlham students who feel unsuccessful in developing effective study skills and managing their time effectively compared to students from other colleges.

Since entering college, 39% of Earlham first-year students have decided to pursue a different major compared to 28% of students from other colleges.  Since Earlham students are not required to declare their major until the end of their sophomore year, it is not surprising that only 14% of the first-year students declared their major.  This compares to 44% of students from other colleges.  Earlham had a great percentage of students participating in varsity athletics.  Other colleges had a much greater percentage of students who took a college course or seminar specifically designed to help first-year students adjust to college.  Fifty-eight percent of those students took such a course compared to 23% of Earlham first-year students. 

Ninety-four percent of Earlham’s first year students thought they would be returning to Earlham for the Fall 2002 semester.  This compares to 90.7% of the fist-year students from other colleges indicating expectations of returning to the same college.


DISCUSSION

This survey serves as an aid to understanding our first-year students.  We should be pleased to learn that 80% of these students were satisfied with their first year experience at Earlham.  It is certainly possible that the high level of satisfaction among these students could be instrumental in improving our retention rates. 

There are more Earlham students satisfied with the amount of contact with faculty, opportunities for community service, relevance of coursework to everyday life and the relevance of coursework to their future compared to students from other 4-year colleges.

The first year students at Earlham are being inspired to think in new ways.  This should be an encouragement to the teaching faculty.

Teaching faculty should also be commended for incorporating more opportunities for group discussions and projects in their courses compared to faculty at other colleges.

The survey has also raised some interesting questions.  Should we be concerned that a greater percentage of first year students drank beer, wine, or liquor during their first year at Earlham than they did the year before college?  Should we be even more concerned that the percentage of Earlham students who participate in these activities is greater than the percentage of students at other four-year colleges?  Students at Earlham are more likely to feel that their social life interfered with their schoolwork compared to students from other schools.  Is their alcohol consumption related to this outcome?

We might wonder why our first year students discussed politics and/or religion less during their first year of college than they did their senior year in high school?  Since more than twice as many Earlham students discuss politics and/or religion compared to students from other four year colleges, does this need to be an area of concern?

The percentage of students attending religious services during their first year at Earlham is less than at other 4-year private colleges.  Also, fewer students attended a religious service compared to the number that did so the year before entering college.  Are there sufficient opportunities for students to attend religious services at Earlham?  Should a greater effort be made to inform students of religious services available in the community?  Should transportation be provided to these services? 

The fact that a greater percentage of Earlham students turn in course assignments late and came late to class compared to other 4-year colleges could make us question our students’ self-discipline or the structure provided by the college.  Earlham students were more likely to turn in course assignments that did not reflect their best work.  Would this fact surprise our teaching faculty?  Our students, on the other hand, are more likely to discuss course content with students outside of class which is to be commended.

Another question raised by this survey might be, “Why are Earlham students less likely to have daily contact with their family?”  Is this due to the fact that most Earlham students live a great distance from their families?   Have our students gained more independence from their families compared to students at other 4-year colleges?  Or is their lack of communication with family members a sign of relationship or communication problems?

Thirty-one percent of the first-year students considered creating artistic work a very important or essential objective when they entered Earlham.  That percentage increased to 43% after one year at Earlham.  This compares to only 22% of students from other 4-year colleges.  Earlham aims to graduate students who possess an understanding of the formal dynamics of works of art and also personal creativity and confidence in one’s own ideas.  Can we say that this survey indicates we are making progress in these goals?

The first year at Earlham also appears to have increased students’ desire to develop a meaningful philosophy of life and to help promote racial understanding.  Are the students aware that their values are changing?  Is it apparent to faculty?  And what are the implications of this in relation to our mission statement and goals?

Should we be concerned that we have a greater percentage of students who feel unsuccessful in developing effective study skills and managing their time effectively compared to students from other colleges?  Will our new general education requirements address these problems?

There was a striking difference in the number of students who had declared a major by the end of their first year compared to other colleges.  Should we be encouraging our students to choose a major earlier in their college experience?  Would this help students be more focused in their coursework?  Would they benefit from a sense of belonging to a certain program or department?

Only 62% of these students were satisfied or very satisfied with academic advising.  In another study, parent interviews also revealed dissatisfaction with academic advising among parents of first-year students.  Is there a way we could increase the level of satisfaction?  Would improving academic advising result in increased retention?  It appears that this issue should be studied further.

After one year at Earlham, students were reporting an improved self-rating of their emotional health.  Could this improved emotional health play a part in their satisfaction with their Earlham experience as well as retention?  It is also quite possible that those students with greater emotional problems did not remain at Earlham and thus did not participate in this survey.

It may appear that our diversity goals are being realized even within the first year college experience.  This could be a result of providing the appropriate environment for students to associate with students from different backgrounds.  Of course another possible explanation is that students who came to Earlham are more receptive to diversity issues than students from other 4-year colleges.   

The attractiveness of the campus and the availability of recreational and academic facilities are considered definite assets for the first year student.

The responses to the questions on this survey should be the cause for further study.  The low rating of the quality of on-campus housing might indicate a need for housing to be reviewed.   It might also be advantageous to investigate ways to increase campus support for varsity athletics or to improve access to off-campus cultural and recreational opportunities.

Other possible areas for concern lie in the quality of engagement during conflicts in Residence Halls and the effectiveness of the “roommate agreement”.  Although there were some students who rated these characteristics excellent, almost half of them gave a rating of poor/fair or good. 

It would be helpful if we could determine the reason students do not feel that the Earlham environment necessarily stresses academic excellence, especially since they rate Earlham’s academic reputation as “very good”.  Making teachers aware of their views may be the first step toward change, but further study on this issue would also be helpful.

The YFCY survey has provided useful data on the first year experience.  It will be important to ascertain ways in which we can work to improve those items that need to be addressed.  Additional surveys, interviews, or focus groups could prove helpful in the future to determine if views change.

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