from the Illinois Board of Higher Education

January 26, 1999

Contact: Ross Hodel, 217/782-2551

Don Sevener, 217/782-3632


Students Rate Universities High, But Find Room to Improve

SPRINGFIELD - Echoing earlier surveys of citizens and opinion leaders, a poll of university seniors in Illinois has found overwhelming satisfaction with their undergraduate experience. The survey of 1,180 students by researchers from the University of Illinois at Springfield revealed that 94% of the seniors gave their overall university experience high marks.

The results mirror findings of earlier surveys showing that 93% of citizens and 95% of opinion leaders gave high job ratings to Illinois' colleges and universities. The Illinois Board of Higher Education commissioned the research to sample the views of various constituents of colleges and universities and to inform the creation of a new strategic plan for higher education - the Illinois Commitment.

Like those polled in previous surveys, students said they were pleased with the job their universities were doing. Satisfaction levels were uniformly high for a variety of factors influencing the quality of a college education, although the survey also revealed - as did earlier ones - room for improvement in several areas of academic endeavor.

"This comprehensive survey of student attitudes gives us a detailed snapshot that will inform our ongoing deliberations on policies affecting the quality of the campus experience," Keith R. Sanders, Executive Director of the Board of Higher Education, said. "These are the folks who help us peer into the classroom, and their insights are invaluable."

The seniors rated their academic preparation high - 96% said they were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with the knowledge and skills they gained in college; 90% expressed similar satisfaction when asked how well universities had prepared them to participate as citizens.

Students also voiced strong satisfaction with their preparation for work - 86% were "very satisfied" or "satisfied." In comparison, 85% of opinion leaders, 75% of citizens, and 74% of employers said higher education does a "very good" or "good" job preparing students for the workplace.

On the other hand, students expressed concern about the affordability of college and with some key features affecting the quality of their college education, particularly academic advising and computer training. One in four students was less than satisfied with the quality of advising, complaining that some advisers lacked knowledge of various academic requirements. A third of the seniors were unhappy with computer training, some noting that they were expected to be familiar with certain software programs that had not been integrated into their coursework.

Asked to rate eight broad goals encompassed in the Illinois Commitment planning initiative, students put affordability at the top of their list. Even so, when asked about the cost of their education and the availability of financial aid 47.5% said they were "very satisfied" and about 39% replied "satisfied."

Among the more useful findings of the survey was students' attitudes about the pivotal role of faculty. When asked what they most liked and disliked, students listed faculty as the most frequent response in either category. On the upside, 30% of the seniors said their favorite aspect of campus life was the positive relationships with faculty, outranking social life, classes, and their individual academic studies. Similarly, negative attitudes about faculty outnumbered every other category of dislikes, including parking, dorm life, and food services. Students suggested faculty could improve by using more diverse activities to match differing learning styles among students and by encouraging students to be more assertive in challenging ideas offered in the classroom.

Although 13% of students voiced some dissatisfaction with faculty, the seniors' overall attitude was more positive. A large majority of students (eight of ten or more) said faculty were accessible, had high expectations for student work, gave them timely feedback, and stressed the value of study and planning in academic success. In two focus group sessions, students noted that nearly all their teachers were knowledgeable about their subject matter.

"Our campuses should be rightfully proud at the high level of customer satisfaction revealed in this survey," Sanders said. "But we need also to take seriously the concerns expressed by students who are on the threshold of graduation, for they have much to guide us toward making the undergraduate experience even more rewarding."

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