This week, members of the Student Life Committee (SLC) gathered to discuss the results of an annual survey given to entering freshmen during orientation and to graduating seniors during graduation rehearsal.
The survey, written by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles and conducted by individual colleges, is comprehensive and covers topics such as demographics, values, beliefs, health, academic participation and many more. The survey results are from the 2010-2011 academic year.
Knox’s Director of Institutional Research Charles Clark was present to summarize the findings for the committee and offer his professional opinion as to how the results should be interpreted.
“The results have been very stable across time. Year to year, there are no significant spikes in the data,” Clark said.
He was also careful to note that the data should not be taken as concrete evidence; rather, the surveys should be seen as general trends.
Overall, the survey evidence presents a positive picture of Knox students. Entering Knox, freshmen find themselves to have similar levels of artistic ability, cooperativeness, intellectual self-confidence and self-understanding as their peers at similar four-year highly selective institutions.
The survey given to seniors during graduation rehearsal shows that Knox seniors express significantly higher overall satisfaction than peers at similar institutions. Knox seniors also agreed significantly more frequently with the statement: “If asked, I would recommend this college to others” than seniors at similar institutions.
The surveys do indicate some potentially troubling aspects, however, which the committee dissected and discussed at length.
Knox seniors express significantly lower levels of physical health and higher levels of drinking than seniors at similar institutions. Committee member and Associate Professor of Political Science Duane Oldfield stressed the importance of this issue to the committee.
“I don’t think we can gloss over the numbers on binge drinking. When students become seniors, they are off the charts on this,” Oldfield said.
Dean of Students Debbie Southern cautioned, however, that definitions of binge drinking vary by survey and that often what surveys count as binge drinking isn’t aligned with practical reality. She added that Knox seems to be in the norm for disciplinary action taken towards alcohol violations.
In the end, the committee did not find the alcohol statistic to be of urgent concern.
“An increase in reported alcohol consumption reflects a culture of openness that we want. I would rather see 12 ambulances than a bunch of students we have to say prayers for. Students seem to be taking care of each other,” Professor of Theatre and SLC Chair Elizabeth Carlin-Metz said.
Committee member and Instructor of Art Mike Godsil ‘04 agreed with this and praised the efforts of Southern’s office in dealing with alcohol violations.
“The Office of Student Development has done a great job of fostering a culture of reporting on campus. Everybody understands we need to be concerned about others’ lives first, before disciplinary records, before the possibility of getting in trouble,” Godsil said.
The finding that Knox seniors report significantly lower levels of physical health sparked concerns about the availability and accessibility of athletic facilities.
Although the facilities are widely used, some on the committee wondered whether students might be intimidated by lack of familiarity with equipment.
Post-baccalaureate Tim Schmeling ’11 wondered whether the college might incorporate more instruction on how to use exercise equipment.
Dean Southern noted that freshman orientation does include a tour of the athletic facilities but that no specific instruction is offered.
It was noted that physical health issues might also point towards a societal problem, not something wrong with Knox in particular.
“A lot of this might come from body image issues,” Southern said.
Senate Secretary sophomore Eli Mulhausen offered a complementary interpretation.
“This could be because students, when they come to college, forgo some physical activity for academics or other commitments,” he said.