The Institutional Effectiveness - Teaching Connection, #110

First-Year Students' Expectations of College

December 2020

The Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement

The Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE) is administered by the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University. It is designed to inform institutions about the background, perceptions, and expectations of their new first-year (FY) and transfer students. It is part of a comprehensive research effort that also includes the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE).

Miami University has participated in the BCSSE at the Oxford campus in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2019, and 2020. Miami has participated in the NSSE beginning in 2000 and for each odd-numbered year since 2001; the Miami Regionals began participating in 2015. Miami has participated in the FSSE in 2004, 2006. 2008, 2009. 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2019, with the Regionals participating beginning in 2015. The BCSSE has previously been administered in student orientation sessions, but it was administered online in summer 2020 due to COVID-19. The Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness has posted results of the 2020 BCSSE on its website. Along with OIE's profile of the Oxford class of 2024, the BCSSE results provide an overview of first-year students that may have useful implications for teaching, learning, and University operations. 

Past editions of The Institutional Effectiveness - Teaching Connection (previously known as Assessment Briefs) shared results of the 2004 and 2008 BCSSE administrations, making it possible to compare results with those of 2020. 

Expectations About Studying and Preparing for Class

The BCSSE includes comparative data for students' and faculty members' expectations and estimates about hours per week spend studying and preparing for class:

  • 2020 Oxford campus new students' expectations about their first year of college.
  • 2020 Oxford campus new students' estimates of their senior year of high school.
  • 2008 FY students' expectations about their first year of college.
  • 2018-2019 (latest available) FY students' estimates of their hours per week studying and preparing for class, and
  • faculty members' estimates of how much time students in their lower-division classes spend.

 In 2020 FY students estimate needing to spend substantially more time studying and preparing for class than they did in high school; their estimates are similar to those of FY students in 2008. Miami's most recent NSSE results indicate that FY students actually spend fewer hours per week than are estimated by new students before they begin college. The most striking difference is that faculty members estimate students in their lower-division classes spend far less time studying and preparing for class than students estimate. 

Anticipated Difficulties in the First Year of College: 2020 and 2008

Below is a comparison of Oxford FY students in 2020 and 2008 on six BCSSE items concerning areas where they may experience difficulty. 

During the coming school year, how difficult do you expect the following to be? (percentage indicating 5 or 6 on a 6-point scale, where 6 indicates "very difficult")

  •  Learning course material
    • 2008 - 36%
    • 2020 - 28%
  • Managing your time
    • 2008 - 50%
    • 2020 - 37%
  • Paying college expenses
    • 2008 - 31%
    • 2020 - 28%
  • Getting help with school work
    • 2008 - 8%
    • 2020 - 5%
  • Making new friends
    • 2008 - 10%
    • 2020 - 13%
  • Interacting with faculty
    • 2008 - 111%
    • 2020 - 7%

Most of the results are similar across the span of 12 years, but FY students in 2020 were more likely to estimate they would have difficulty managing their time and learning course material.

Certainty of Perseverance and Success in the First Year of College: 2020 and 2008

Below is a comparison of the BCSSE results of Miami FY students in 2020 and 2008 on six items concerning perseverance and success.

During the coming school year, how certain are you that you will do the following? (percentage indicating 5 or 6 on a 6-point scale, where 6 indicates "very certain")

  • Study when there are other interesting things to do 
    • 2008 - 33%
    • 2020 - 37%
  • Find additional information for course assignments when you don't understand the material
    • 2008 - 60%
    • 2020 - 68%
  • Participate regularly in course discussion, even when you don't feel like it
    • 2008 - 40%
    • 2020 - 46%
  • Ask instructors for help when you struggle with course assignments
    • 2008 - 65%
    • 2020 - 68%
  • Finish something you have started when you encounter challenges
    • 2008 - 72%
    • 2020 - 74%
  • Stay positive, even when you do poorly on a test assignment
    • 2008 - 50%
    • 2020 - 47%

Results are, again, similar between the two cohorts. The greatest difference was students' certainty that they could find additional information for course assignments when they didn't understand course material; students in 2020 were less certain than those of 2008 of being successful in this area. 

Importance of Experiences and Opportunities Provided by Miami University in Students' First Year of College: 2020 and 2008

The BCSSE asked entering students how important it was to them that Miami offer various experiences and opportunities in six areas, as shown below.

How important is it to you that you institution provides the following? (percentage indicating 5 or 6 on a 6-point scale, where 6 indicates "very important")

  • A challenging academic experience
    • 2008 - 70%
    • 2020 - 54%
  • Support to help you succeed academically
    • 2008 - 88%
    • 2020 - 88%
  • Opportunities to interact with students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds
    • 2008 - 50%
    • 2020 - 72%
  • Assistance coping with your non-academic responsibilities (work, family, etc.)
    • 2008 - 37%
    • 2020 - 49%
  • Support to help you thrive socially
    • 2008 - 53%
    • 2020 - 73%
  • Opportunities to attend campus events and activities
    • 2008 - 72%
    • 2020 - 73%

While results for two of the items were quite similar, they were substantially different for the other four. New students in 2020 were more likely to consider as important having opportunities to interact with students from backgrounds different than their own, having support for them to thrive socially, and having assistance in coping with their non-academic responsibilities (e.g., work and family). This year's FY students were less likely to indicate that being offered a challenging academic experience is important.

2020 Group Comparison

The BCSSE asks respondents to provide demographic data about themselves, which allows for group comparisons of the results. Two group differences highlighted in the NSSE results are whether or not students' parents graduated with a college degree (that is, if they are first generation college students) and whether students reported most of their grades in high school being A- or above or B+ or below. While many results were similar, on average, between members of these two sets of groups, differences stood out in terms of students' academic preparation in high school and their expectations of and preparation for success in college. 

First-generation students were less likely to have completed 5 or more Advanced Placement courses, but they were more likely to have completed college courses for credit while in high school and more likely to anticipate working 11 or more hours per week. 

Students who indicated most of their grades in high school were A- or higher reported being more likely than students with lower high school grades (B+ or below) to have completed 5 or more Advanced Placement courses, but they were less likely to have completed any college courses for credit while in high school. Students with higher high school grades were more likely to say they were well prepared to write clearly and effectively and less likely to expect to seek help from their academic advisors. 

Implications for Learning and Student Success

The 2020 Oxford BCSSE results have several implications for teaching, learning, and student success. Students recognize that they have to study more in college than they did in high school, but there seems to be a serious disconnect between how much FY students say they study and how much faculty members think they study. It may be useful for faculty members to share their expectations with FY students about effective study habits. It may be a good thing that FY students in 2020 were more likely to estimate they would have difficulty managing their time and learning course material—if this means they are being more realistic about what their first year in college will be like. However, it is important that the University make students aware of the resources it offers to support them. 

New students in 2020 were more likely to consider as important having opportunities to interact with students from backgrounds different than their own, having Miami provide them support for them to thrive socially, and having the University provide the with assistance in coping with their non-academic responsibilities (e.g., work and family). We need to make students aware of Miami's strong and growing array of opportunities concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion; of opportunities for learning and development outside of the classroom; and of support services, but students also need to be asked to share their ideas about additional opportunities and support services they would like and to share their feedback about their experiences. 

It may be the case that better-prepared and/or non-first generation high school students more often take advantage of AP courses, while less well-prepared and/or first-generation students are more likely to participate in completing college credits while in high school through Ohio's College Credit Plus program and similar opportunities offered in their states.

It is encouraging that students who did less well in high school recognize they need to seek help from their advisors, but it is also important that we frame interaction with advisors as an expected and positive experience for all students. Similarly, while it is a positive that students with lower grades in high school recognize that they are less prepared to write clearly and effectively than are students with better grades, it is important that the University recognize this difference in preparation and work to ensure that all students make use of Miami's writing support services. 

The Institutional Effectiveness - Teaching Connection (formerly known as Assessment Briefs) is a collaborative product of the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness (OIRE) and the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). The Connection's goal is to translate institutional data into considerations for improving teaching and learning at Miami.