Take Wabash and improve University
BACK TO BASICS
Published: Monday, March 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 12, 2012 22:03
On March 20, 21 and 28, seniors at Brandeis will have the chance to participate in the third and final part of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts. The Wabash study provides the University with a unique opportunity of extensive self-assessment that could help improve education in the coming years.
Given the rarity of this type of opportunity for Brandeis, I encourage all seniors to participate.
According to the University's Office of Assessment website, the Wabash study is "a large-scale, longitudinal study to investigate critical factors that affect the outcomes of liberal arts education." Specifically, the study investigates the development of 12 student qualities as a result of a liberal arts education, including attitudes toward diversity, leadership and critical thinking. The results from the study will be used to determine what components of a Brandeis education are working for students, which ones are not and then to make the appropriate changes to the University's program. Unlike senior surveys, which are administered solely at the end of a class' senior year, the Wabash study was given twice to current seniors during their first year; once in the fall and once in the spring. Midyears participated in the spring and the following fall.
Brandeis has never before completed a self-evaluation of this magnitude to determine how effective its educational experience really is, according to Associate Provost for Assessment Dan Perlman in an interview with the Justice. The earlier surveys from the current seniors' first year will serve as a baseline for the survey being given this year and allow for a true comparison of students' attitudes toward Brandeis at the beginning and end of their time here. I expect that the results of the survey will focus on student life, faculty-student interactions, classroom experiences and attitudes toward diversity, seeing as those topics were the focus of the first-year data analysis.
The results of the Brandeis survey can also be compared to other universities participating in the Wabash study. Complete data from the study will give an idea as to how the Brandeis experience stacks up against the competition and what makes the Brandeis student body inherently different from those at other schools. Comparisons can also give new perspective to apparent weaknesses and strengths.
These findings will help the University identify what qualities of Brandeis are relevant in the context of other institutions. This is especially important given the diversity among the participating institutions, which range from Hampshire College to the University of Michigan.
University administrators have already demonstrated their interest to act on the survey results to improve the Brandeis experience.
Using the data from the results of the first two surveys, conducted when current seniors were first-year students, administrators were able to conclude that first-year students were not connecting with their professors on a personal level as much as they would have liked.
In response, a subcommittee was established by the Committee for the Support of Teaching to improve faculty relations with first-year students, and several programs were subsequently implemented to specifically foster those relations.
These programs, all of which are still ongoing, include vouchers for professors to invite first-year students to lunch or coffee, a series of professor lectures geared toward first-year students and the development of a first-year residence community that will involve faculty interaction, according to Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Elaine Wong in an interview with the Justice. Given this series of initiatives based on one finding from early study results, I'm interested to see what new programs will be implemented at Brandeis once the senior year data has been fully analyzed.
The Wabash study is a very rare but incredibly valuable method for the University administration to get an in-depth understanding of the undergraduate Brandeis experience. I am hopeful that the administration will not underestimate the value of the survey results and will aggressively employ the data to improve the Brandeis experience in the future.
Seniors have a unique opportunity to positively impact the future of their school for years to come. All they have to do is fill out the survey.