National survey shows half of students aren’t being challenged

Only 54 percent of freshmen felt their courses were challenging enough.

Olivia Johnson

Many students choose classes to simply fill requirements, and some University of Minnesota undergraduates are no exception. 
 
Results from a spring survey of more than 315,000 students in 541 colleges nationwide showed just over half of first-year students felt “highly challenged” in courses. The study, called the National Survey of Student Engagement, collects data about student learning habits. 
 
Maddy Vieths, a graphic design freshman at the University, said she felt one of her required College of Design courses wasn’t challenging enough. 
 
“It’s kind of like the joke of all design students,” Vieths said. “I’ve never heard anyone say anything positive about that class.”
 
The class had weekly assignments that frustrated the students instead of motivating them, she said. The assignments restricted creativity and led many students to turn in similar work, Vieths said.
 
The University stopped participating in NSSE surveys six years ago, but it still uses another survey that reveals similar findings, said Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. 
 
The University of California-Berkeley started the newer survey, called Student Experience in the Research University survey, for large research universities like the University of Minnesota, McMaster said. 
 
The SERU survey in 2014 found 59 percent of students on campus chose more challenging courses, even if they could lower their GPA, he said. 
 
The study also showed that about 50 percent of students tried harder in class when professors had higher standards, McMaster said. 
 
“What that tells me is that over 50 percent of our students thought that because of the quality of the faculty member, it motivated them to step up their game,” he said.
 
Computer science freshman John Gebell, enrolled in a public speaking course this fall to fill school requirements.
 
“I did not feel very challenged in this course,” Gebell said. “In fact, the reason I took this class was that I knew it would be easy.”
 
He said the course wasn’t rigorous enough or valuable to him.
 
“The class felt inadequate by the extreme leniency in the grading,” Gebell said.