National Survey Finds Mason First Year and Senior Students Working Harder on Academics

Posted: June 12, 2013 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: June 12, 2013 at 8:01 am

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Mason first year and senior students are engaging more in challenging mental activities, such as analysis, synthesis and making judgments, than their counterparts six years ago. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Each year the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) collects information from first year students and graduating seniors at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. George Mason University has participated every three years since 2000.

The survey measures how engaged specific student populations are in a range of educational and social activities.

George Mason’s Office of Institutional Assessment recently released a report on the 2012 findings.

In 2012, all first year students and seniors were surveyed, and 2,338 students completed the survey, for a 28 percent response rate. Responses were split about evenly between the two groups — 1,026 first year students responded (28 percent response rate), and 1,312 seniors responded (27 percent response rate).

Students collaborating. Photo by Alexis Glenn

Students report more active and collaborative learning. Photo by Alexis Glenn

The survey supplied both self-comparison results for the years 2006 and 2012, as well as peer comparison results for 2012. One peer group with the same classification as Mason was “research universities with high research activity” (45 institutions) and one was “research universities with very high research activity” (21 institutions), which was termed an “aspirational” group.

“Mason freshmen score higher than both groups on two of the five NSSE benchmarks that involve active learning and enriching educational experiences, and higher than the aspirational group on student-faculty interaction,” notes Karen Gentemann, associate provost for institutional effectiveness. “Six years ago, Mason freshmen scored higher than our peer group on only one benchmark (enriching experiences).”

Gentemann also points out that seniors scored higher on active learning than the aspirational group, and seniors’ satisfaction with academic advising has increased substantially since 2006.

In addition, she says, both freshmen and seniors continued to score significantly higher than two comparison groups on items related to diversity.  “Our students have more serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity, and they report that Mason encourages contact among students from different backgrounds,” Gentemann notes.

Some specific findings were:

  • Mason first year and senior students showed significant improvement over the last six years in their level of academic challenge. Improvement was found in working harder to meet expectations, spending more hours to prepare for class, and engaging in challenging mental activities such as analysis, synthesis and making judgments.
  • Significant improvement occurred between 2006 and 2012 in Mason’s first year students’ engagement in active and collaborative learning, interactions with faculty, participating in enriching educational experiences and perceptions of Mason’s campus environment.
  • Compared to 2006, first year students in 2012 reported more gains in acquiring job-related knowledge and skills, understanding themselves, solving complex real-world problems, developing a personal code of values and ethics, and contributing to the welfare of the community. Seniors of 2012 gained in learning effectively on their own.
  • Mason first year students surpassed two peer groups in active and collaborative learning, being more likely to ask questions in class, discuss ideas from readings and class and make class presentations.
  • Compared to one peer group, Mason seniors also scored higher on active and collaborative learning, being more likely to ask questions and make presentations, as well as to work with other students on projects during class.
  • Mason first year students reported a significantly higher level of student-faculty interaction when compared with one of the peer groups. This included getting prompt feedback on academic performance and discussing grades and assignments with faculty. Seniors scored significantly lower on this measure, due to lower ratings for talking with faculty/advisors about career plans; discussing ideas with faculty outside of class, working with faculty on activities other than course work; and working on a research project with faculty outside of course or program requirements.
  • Mason first year students were significantly more likely than students in two peer groups to report participating in enriching educational activities. Mason seniors were significantly less likely to report participating in enriching educational experiences such as practicum/internship/field experience, community service, learning communities, foreign language course work, study abroad and co-curricular activities.
  • Mason students reported a similar level of academic challenge when compared to both peer groups, but they perceived the campus environment as significantly less supportive than their peers. Mason students had a less favorable perception of institutional support to help them succeed academically. First year students had a less favorable perception of relationships with administrative personnel, and seniors had a less favorable perception of relationships with other students and faculty.

To read the full report, see the Office of Institutional Assessment website.

Mason Provost Peter Stearns comments on his blogpost, “Learning Outcomes.”

Write to Robin Herron at

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