Institutional research to begin in February

by Hunter Harris / Beacon Staff • February 6, 2014

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Students are encouraged to complete a survey about the Pro Arts Consortium.
Students are encouraged to complete a survey about the Pro Arts Consortium.

In an effort to fulfill President M. Lee Pelton’s strategic objective to bolster academic excellence, the Office of Institutional Research announced two upcoming projects for the month of February. To better understand student impressions of the phrase “academic challenge” and gauge student knowledge of the ProArts Consortium, the office is hosting focus groups and compiling survey data.

In an email sent Jan. 24, second semester freshmen and seniors were invited to participate in focus groups to discuss academic challenge at Emerson. 

According to Michael Duggan, associate vice president for institutional research, these student groups were specifically selected to better understand the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement, administered annually to college students. According to findings from the NSSE posted on the office of institutional research’s website, only 45 percent of Emerson students reported in 2013 that their courses “highly” challenged them. Duggan said administrators believe students might have misinterpreted that question, and are looking for clarification.

“One of the things we’re interested in doing in the focus groups is to dig down a little deeper and ask students, when someone says ‘academic challenge’ to you, what does it mean?” said Duggan.

Sophomore Soyer Wilson said he thinks that Emerson’s curriculum isn’t challenging.

“I don’t know about other departments, but I don’t think the marketing program [is very challenging]. It’s pretty simple,” the marketing communication student said.

According to Duggan, feedback gained during the two sessions will be summarized and given to chief academic officer Michaele Whelan and Emerson’s deans.

In the two years that Duggan has been employed by the college, he said these focus groups are the first of their kind, but his office doesn’t have immediate plans for others. There are currently two sessions scheduled for seniors, the first on Feb. 13 and the second on Feb. 26, where pizza will be provided to participants. Two marketing communication graduate students will facilitate the sessions. Students who choose to provide their feedback will also receive a $20 Starbucks gift card.

In a Jan. 27 email, the office of institutional research asked students to complete a short survey about the ProArts Consortium. Comprised of six schools — Emerson, Berklee College of Music, the Boston Architectural College, The Boston Conservatory, Massachusetts College of Art, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts — the partnership allows students to cross-register for courses among those colleges.

Created with the institutional research administrators from the other schools in the ProArts Consortium, administrators plan to use the results to identify how knowledgeable students are about the program, the likelihood of students to cross-register, and how satisfying these experiences have been in the past.

According to Duggan, 400 students have responded to the ProArts survey as of Jan. 31, and he expects to send another email reminding students of the survey and its incentives Feb. 6.

Sophomore performing arts student Madeleine Beimford said she was aware of the ProArts opportunities, but didn’t believe enough is being done to advertise the program.

 “I don’t think [the administration] has done enough to put themselves out there to students,” said Beimford, who said she heard about the ProArts program from a co-worker in her hometown of Wellesley, Mass. “I haven’t seen it around as a resource for students and I think it could be really helpful.”

Student participation in this survey is the greatest challenge that faces the office of institutional research, according to Duggan, who said he communicates frequently with the corresponding offices at schools in the area.

“When we try to do a survey, I think a lot of students don’t even read the emails that we send out,” said Duggan. “If anyone had any ideas about how to increase participation by students, we’d love to hear back from them.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that students who participate in the focus groups will be eligible to receive a gift card.