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Faculty Get High Marks from Graduating Seniors


By Alison Hewitt

Published Apr 1, 2009 10:00 AM

Professors given high praise from UCLA's recent grads.


Judith Smith, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, has a stack of papers covered in blue-and-gold charts that makes her pretty pleased.

It's the College of Letters and Science's fourth annual Senior Survey, which asked 4,500 graduating seniors about their experiences at UCLA. Fully 94 percent of them said they were satisfied or even very satisfied with their overall time at UCLA. Just as important, students gave faculty high marks.

The survey was offered to all seniors who expected to graduate during any quarter of 2008, and covers campus life, academic experiences and post-graduation plans. It is coordinated by Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs and the UCLA Alumni Association.

Faculty accessibility fared well: 87 percent of responding students were satisfied or very satisfied with the accessibility of faculty in their major, and 91 percent said the same about their minors. Students also praised their professors with glowing observations such as, "They knew their stuff, and they brought a palpable brilliance to the classroom, but were also more than happy to discuss my little pet theories in their office hours." Likewise, 90 percent of students were happy about intellectual challenges they encountered from the faculty in their major, as did 94 percent regarding their minors.

"At a research university, there's a stereotype that faculty won't care about education … But clearly, students feel that they get a good education," Smith says.

Minors Highly Rated

The survey results highlighted one interesting point: Students indicated they were more satisfied with their minors than with their majors in several categories. More seniors rated their minor curriculum as satisfying, the faculty as accessible and challenging, and even that small and required courses were available more often in their minors than in their majors.

"Is there some halo effect around a minor?" Smith asks. "It seems like students either find a minor more satisfying, or maybe students who take a minor are more satisfied in general. The discrepancy has been very consistent over the years. We think it might be because some students take a minor because it's something really dear to their hearts."

She also notes that many Bruins enjoy the General Education requirements: About 85 percent were glad they took GE classes because it let them explore topics outside of their majors.

Campus Diversity a Plus

Although most Bruins said students from similar racial, ethnic or economic backgrounds tended to stick together, seniors also had meaningful discussions about diverse cultures with classmates from different backgrounds. One respondent, for example, wrote that "being in an environment that is as diverse as UCLA — racially, economically, socially — is the most meaningful experience I've had."

The survey also covered negative experiences, and there is room for improvement in some areas. Some students felt overwhelmed and friendless on UCLA's big campus, or missed out on student life as a commuter, or a general malaise, with one saying that a college degree is important, but college education is not.

Call for More Small Seminars

More specific survey responses show that students want more small seminars. Smith especially hopes to increase the number of senior seminars.

"Faculty should see from this that students do want more small courses, especially in their major," she concludes. "But ultimately, over the years, we've consistently gotten high rates of satisfaction."