How to Discover a Faculty Culture of Support
In last week's post, I mentioned that the most important factor enabling college students to achieve their educational goals was a supportive faculty member. I encourage students engaging in the college search process to look for colleges that have cultures where faculty members want to help and mentor students. In this post I continue that discussion and offer a couple ideas for how to identify whether a college actually has a supportive faculty environment.
While there is no federal data set that rates faculty support, there are a few resources that can give the curious researcher an indication of the type of faculty culture that exists in a particular department.
1. Do a Review of ratemyprofessors.com. Look for reviews of faculty who work in the major you are interested in. Comments made by students can be helpful in determining the type of support faculty members general do or do not provide their students. While many people are skeptical of the validity of the ratings on ratemyprofessors, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlights an interesting research piece suggesting that instructor ratings on the site may have some value. Indeed, while the ratings provided on the website are anonymous, most of them are positive and many of them provide detailed, specific information about an instructor's teaching style or availability to offer support. While I don't encourage students to use these ratings as a litmus test on whether to apply to a particular college, I do think the individual comments can provide some insights into the perceived culture of the faculty in a particular academic area.
2. Look at the College's NSSE Results. NSSE stands for the National Survey of Student Engagement. This is a unit within the Center for Postsecondary Research. It offers colleges a survey called the College Student Report. This survey instrument asks first-year and senior students about a variety of issues such as their participation in campus programs, their perceptions of institutional support and the quality of interactions students have with faculty members and academic advisors. While the results of the NSSE survey are not automatically made public, you can do a quick google search to determine if the institution you are interested in has participated in a NSSE survey and whether the school reports its results publicly. For example, by entering in the phrase, "nsse survey university of northern iowa," I was able to quickly find a link to the University of Northern Iowa's link to its results for 2018.
By spending a little time doing a quick analysis of student opinions of faculty support and professor quality, you can get a little better picture of whether the faculty at a particular school have a passion to assist students or if they merely teach their topic areas and focus their attention elsewhere.