Rising To Excellence

The 2007 Freshman Class Continues Upward Trends in Student Performance and Engagement

The freshman class of 2007 is one of the strongest entering classes the University at Buffalo has yet enrolled in terms of both its academic credentials and its engagement with various facets of university life. The Office of Admissions reports that the mean high school average of 92 and average composite SAT score of 1199 represent the best academic performance of any UB freshman class yet. The results of the 2007 New Freshman Survey conducted by the Office of Institutional Analysis, however, suggest that the strength of the incoming freshman class goes well beyond these numbers and underscore UBís increasing success in attracting diversely talented, confident, and committed high school graduates.

Since 1980, Institutional Analysis has administered its freshman survey annually as part of the student orientation process. This survey explores new studentsí backgrounds, attitudes, values, and college expectations as they first enroll at UB. Because most of the survey has been standardized, it is possible to chart changes in incoming classes over time. Data from the entering classes of 2003 and 2005 served as benchmarks for the analysis of responses of the 2,543 freshman who have completed the 2007 survey.

Freshmen entering in Fall 2007 rate themselves more highly than those from Fall 2003 and 2005 on a broad array of academic and personal skills (see Figure 1). These students, on the whole, view themselves as above average in all areas except for public speaking Ė a skill with which freshmen at other universities typically have less confidence. Since 2003, self-ratings have improved the most in computer skills and drive to achieve.

The 2007 freshman class also reports greater academic and social engagement over the year prior to enrollment than previous classes did. Relative to the entering classes of 2003 and 2005, they are less likely to have been late for class or bored in class but more likely to have studied with other students or discussed politics. They have spent less time socializing but more time studying, talking with teachers, participating in student activities, engaging in volunteer work, exercising, and performing household duties.

Interestingly, these new freshmen are less inclined to have frequently used a personal computer than incoming students have been in the past. This trend may be a reflection of studentsí rapid adoption of cutting-edge communication technologies and a new approach to engagement with the university community.

In choosing UB over other institutions, students enrolling in Fall 2007 have based that decision on a wider variety of institutional characteristics than those in prior freshman classes typically did (Figure 2). UBís academic reputation and cost of attendance and the ability of alumni to obtain gainful employment remain the key factors in that decision. Those issues have been deemed very important by over half of all freshmen over the past four years and continue to grow in importance. But the 2007 freshman class also values national rankings, advice from family and high school personnel, and campus visits far more than entering students did in 2003 or 2005. In fact, all college choice concerns were rated as more important in 2007 than in prior years, except for UBís social reputation and website.

Freshmen in Fall 2007 anticipate engaging with the University more broadly during their UB careers than their counterparts did in prior years (Figure 3). These students are more inclined to communicate regularly with professors, to socialize with people from other racial or ethnic backgrounds, to participate in community service, and to play intercollegiate athletics than freshmen were in the past. Most importantly, freshmen in the entering class of 2007 are 56% more likely to feel that there is a very good chance that they will be satisfied with UB than freshmen were just two years earlier.

Looking over the long term, the freshman class of 2007 is more apt than prior classes to consider sociopolitical engagement as a very important or essential goal. Participating in community programs, helping others in difficulty, keeping up with politics, and influencing social values are particularly important to the newest freshmen. Students enrolling in Fall 2007 also place greater importance on having a successful business of their own and on recognition from others in their professional field.

UBís growth plan for the next few years requires a strong student body as much as a highly regarded faculty to solidify its position as an institution of excellence and to attract the best and brightest high school graduates in and out of New York State. Highly engaged students are also critical to the maintenance of a campus culture that supports excellence once students are enrolled. The positive trends in entering studentsí behaviors and expectations since 2003 not only suggest the Universityís readiness for expansion, but they are also in fact important building blocks upon which UBís rise to national prestige is founded.

By Lauren Young, Office of Institutional Analysis

Related Reading: Surveying Student Success