Freshmen gave Southern Oregon University high marks in interaction with faculty and collaborative learning, while seniors praised its enriching educational experiences and academic challenges, according to a recent survey of students at 769 universities nationwide.

Freshmen gave Southern Oregon University high marks in interaction with faculty and collaborative learning, while seniors praised its enriching educational experiences and academic challenges, according to a recent survey of students at 769 universities nationwide.

The annual National Survey of Student Engagement, released this week, queried 380,000 freshmen and seniors about their experiences in five categories: Level of Academic Challenge, Supportive Campus Environment, Student-Faculty Interaction, Collaborative Learning and Enriching Educational Experiences.

SOU has made headway in all categories since it began participating in the survey in 2005.

"I'm delighted to see the extraordinary academic quality reflected in SOU's NSSE data," said SOU President Mary Cullinan. "We compare positively to peer universities all over the country, and our numbers are improving every year. That's a great testament to the work being done at SOU."

The comparisons were based on a mean score from a series of questions in each category, such as how many pages did the student write for classes and did they discuss their future plans with instructors.

In the report, SOU's undergraduate program is compared to 17 universities in the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges and 171 other master's-degree-level institutions from across the nation.

SOU excelled most in the category of Student-Faculty Interaction. The university was above average among all liberal arts colleges, master's-level institutions and all NSSE schools based on responses from freshmen. It was also deemed above average among master's-level institutions by seniors.

The university recently began introducing faculty to freshmen during events before the start of school to increase the sense of connection between students and faculty, said Jonathan Eldridge, SOU vice president of student affairs.

"Faculty have always wanted to help students, but we implemented a strategy to send the message that we expect students to be engaged with faculty," Eldridge said.

The university lagged behind other liberal arts colleges in Supportive Campus Environment, according to freshmen, but was average when seniors were asked the same questions.

SOU Provost Jim Klein said the university has sought to improve students' sense of support by ensuring they know about all the services available to them on campus. The recent addition of a required University Seminar class for freshmen has helped to spread awareness about what services are available on campus.

In Enriching Educational Experiences, SOU was above average among master's-level institutions according to seniors and about average based on freshmen responses.

Klein said the University Seminar has helped to create more enriching educational experiences for pupils by letting them know about lectures, plays and other educational and entertainment events on campus.

In Level of Academic Challenge, SOU was ahead of the pack among master's-level institutions, according to seniors, and about average according to freshmen.

Among freshmen, SOU surpassed the performance of other master's-level institutions in Collaborative Learning and was about average according to seniors. The university was eye-level with liberal arts colleges in the same category, according to both freshmen and seniors.

The NSSE is growing more popular as a college guide because it is based on student responses and differs from the annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report, which is based on statistics such as SAT scores, admission rates, class sizes and alumni contributions.

The NSSE speaks more to the actual college experience and what happens in the classroom, Eldridge said.

The report is available at nsse.iub.edu/NSSE_2008_Results/.