Apr 3rd, 2006 @ 3:22 pm | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
According to a classic 1987 report, validated in many ways before and since then, there are seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. If these seven practices are prevalent, students are most likely to learn well:
- Student-faculty contact
- Active learning
- Prompt feedback
- Time on task
- High expectations
- Cooperation among students
- Respect for diverse talents and ways of learning

A new study, just out, looked at whether "better" universities were more likely to use these practices. Universities that admitted only students with high grades and test scores were not more likely than others to use best practices in teaching and learning. Whatever else those students are paying for, it is not a guarantee of best-practice instruction. Students and parents typically have a very difficult time with college selection. They instinctively understand, I think, that selecting a college is not much different from spinning a roulette wheel. It is almost impossible to know enough to choose on rational grounds.

A new federal commission on the future of higher education is focusing on that dilemma. Some of its major emerging recommendations will deal with providing consumers with hard data about the quality of the universities they are considering.

Many tools could help families choose, if they were more universally available. One that is spreading rapidly throughout the nation is the National Survey of Student Engagement. The survey asks students to rate their university on many questions and a profile of how well the university uses the seven best practices emerges from their answers. The NSSE is part of the North Dakota University System's accountability report, so our first-year and senior students took the survey last year.

Valley City State University always shines at test-taking time. Here are some of the conclusions from our students' results:
- Students perceive that they receive a positive intellectual experience at VCSU.
- They participate in a number of engaging activities throughout their VCSU experience.
- They show growth in their perceptions and the way they view and understand ideas.
- Seniors indicate they participate in external and community experiences.
- 92% of seniors reported their overall educational experience at VCSU to be good or excellent.
- VCSU students stand out in very significant ways in technology application and collaborative work.
- VCSU first-year students are more involved in community service than most first-year students.
- Seniors perceive that VCSU provides a more positive institutional environment that do students in other four-year NDUS institutions.
- VCSU seniors perceive they have more quality relationships with faculty and administrative personnel than do other students in the survey.

VCSU seniors are much more positive about the academic advisement they receive than other students in this study and they rated VCSU higher on these dimensions:
- Active and Collaborative Learning
- Student-Faculty Interaction
- Supportive Campus Environment

I never doubted that VCSU has many, many master teachers. This is yet another piece of evidence.