National survey: URI leader in learning experiences

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 8, 2007 — University of Rhode Island students like to live and learn together in learning communities, help others through community service, learn more about their fields and themselves through internships, and speak foreign languages and visit foreign countries. In fact, when compared to students at the 609 other colleges and universities that participated in the 2007 National Survey of Student Engagement, URI students led the pack in these four categories.

The national survey asks first-year and senior students about the nature and quality of their undergraduate experience.

This year, 886 randomly selected URI students participated in the web-based survey. Institutions use the information to gauge aspects of the undergraduate experience inside and outside the classroom to see what works, and what needs improvement.

•Learning Communities: During their first year, 55 percent of URI students reported participating in learning communities, compared to only 17 percent of the students at the other institutions.

“We know that students will be more successful and more satisfied with their University experience if they get involved in and out of the classroom. Many times peer support is an important piece of this involvement. When we organize their classes and even their living arrangements as learning communities, students are more likely to get to know each other better, form study groups, and try new challenges,” says Jayne Richmond, dean of University College, the academic home of first- and second-year students. The college offers students a broad range of services, programs, and opportunities.

Each learning community consists of 20 first year students who take three or more courses in common, organized around a major, as well as a URI 101 class, which introduces them to the importance of community service, internships, and international study, as well as diversity, learning strategies, and campus resources. Exposing students to these learning opportunities in their first semester has proven to encourage their eventual involvement in each.

URI began offering Living Learning Communities in the residence halls four years ago, first with students enrolled in the College of Environmental and Life Sciences (CELS), then added learning communities for students studying education, engineering, as well as a community for undeclared students. A community for students studying nursing will be offered in the fall of 2008.

URI has upper -level living learning communities for students in the health sciences (nursing, pharmacy, and biotechnology), as well as for Honors, and CELS students. Each year the number of learning communities will be expanded to include other majors. URI plans to add programming support such as more faculty-student interactions, peer mentors, and advising and classrooms within the residence halls.

• Community Service: Community service is an essential component of life at URI beginning with the freshmen year. Since 1995, all freshmen (about 3,000 this year) are required to participate in a one-credit URI 101 course with a service-learning component called The Feinstein Enriching America Program. The course allows students not only a chance to provide help to the larger community, but also a chance to relate it to their studies, and an opportunity to reflect upon it.

Fifty one percent of URI students reported participating in community service work as freshmen compared to 38 percent of students at other schools. URI seniors displayed a continuing commitment to community service. Sixty-six percent of them reported participating in community service compared to 59 percent of seniors from other institutions.

Internships and Practicum: By their senior year, 71 percent of URI students have participated in some form of practicum, internship, field experience, or clinical assignment compared to 53 percent of students in the other schools. These experiences help students define their career goals, gain entrance to graduate school, and often lead to job offers.

Foreign Language Courses: Seventy two percent of URI seniors have studied a foreign language, compared with 41 percent of students at the other schools. This semester 3,109 students are enrolled in various language courses, most predominantly in French, German, Italian, or Spanish. Interest has also increased for Arabic, Chinese, Latin, Ancient Greek, Greek, Japanese, Portuguese and Russian.