Survey finds increasing freshman satisfaction with U

by Jessica Thompson

A survey released by the Office of Student Development reveals high levels of overall satisfaction among University freshmen.
Eight hundred University students were mailed a First-Year Freshman Experience survey in 1998. Of the 60 percent who returned it, 94 percent reported being satisfied or very satisfied with life in general at the University.
This marks an increase of 14.2 percent since the most recent Student Interest Survey in 1996.
The survey was part of the First-Year Experience initiative, which is a University-wide effort to increase freshman retention.
Survey questions focused on students’ sense of belonging, personal attention received by faculty, overall satisfaction and plans to return to the University.
“We are trying to determine how we can impact students in a positive way and increase their satisfaction here,” said Verna Cornelia Simmons, director of the First-Year Experience and Leadership Programs. “Research tells us that if a student has a good first year, they are more than likely to stay in school.”
The survey found that 95.4 percent of students intended to return to the University the following year. Although the actual return rate was 83.1 percent, Simmons said the positive implications of the survey are apparent.
“Students feeling as though they belong at the University has increased in a major way,” she said. “The difference is the result of the entire campus focusing on the freshman experience.”
Many current freshmen said their satisfaction with the University has been the result of social rather than academic interactions.
“The dorms make for a really good social life,” said computer science freshman Scott Jackson. “Everyone who lives here is pretty much in the same situation, so it’s really easy to meet people.”
Despite large introductory lecture classes, 82.4 percent of students reported encountering at least one instructor who showed a genuine interest in their learning.
Additionally, 65.9 percent of students reported experiencing a sense of community as compared with only 50 percent in 1996.
Theater freshman Erin Boyle said her transition to the University was eased by living in an all-freshman dorm and coming from a city similar to Minneapolis.
“Not a lot has changed for me,” she said. “I’m used to being around a lot of people, and the downtown is really similar to Milwaukee’s.”
For others, adjustment has been more difficult.
Math freshman Ashley Brua said coming to the University from Balsam Lake, Wis. was a huge shock.
“I used to live on a farm in a town where I knew everybody in my high school,” she said. “The amount of people here is pretty overwhelming.”
Brua said she was initially homesick, but she is beginning to get used to the fast-paced University.
“I know there’s a lot of opportunity here, and I guess I can put up with the city while I’m here,” she said.
Simmons said the First-Year Experience initiative has included creating four all-freshmen dorms, developing the first-year convocation and establishing a Web site devoted entirely to freshman concerns.
“We’re doing all of this for one reason,” she said. “We want to send a clear message to freshmen that they matter, they’re important, and we want them to succeed.”

Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at [email protected]