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Rare research about alumni of central Appalachian colleges and universities

Summary of survey results

MILLIGAN COLLEGE, TN (August 2, 2001)—A far-reaching study by scientists from the University of Iowa and Penn State University shows that graduates of small private colleges in Appalachia take great interest in social and ethical issues and report an unusually high degree of satisfaction with their undergraduate education. Regional schools involved in this study include Milligan College, Emory & Henry, Tusculum College and East Tennessee State University.

The study of alumni from 28 central Appalachian colleges and universities was developed by the Berea, Ky.-based Appalachian College Association (ACA) to learn more about the educational, social, and economic impact small liberal arts schools have on the central Appalachian region. The ACA is a consortium of 33 private colleges and universities situated in eastern Kentucky, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and West Virginia. The total enrollment of the ACA member institutions is approximately 35,000, equivalent to a major state university in size.

The survey instrument was sent to more than 47,000 alumni at the participating private and public institutions and the response rate was 27 percent, an unusually high level for a survey of this size. Twenty-three ACA member institutions participated in the study. As a control group, surveys also were sent to alumni at five public colleges and universities in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

“I’m surprised we found as many differences as we did,” said Ernest T. Pascarella, the Mary Louise Petersen Professor of Higher Education at the University of Iowa. Controlling for statistical variables (age, sex, race, marital status, undergraduate grades, parents’ educational attainment, degree goal in high school, and actual educational degree attainment), there were major differences between privately and publicly educated students.

Private college graduates showed clear (up to 9%) advantages in 24 of the 28 questions asked about the retrospectively perceived contribution of the undergraduate college. They showed strong advantages (10% to 34%) in the areas of developing ethical standards and values, appreciating literature and fine arts, developing self-confidence, actively participating in volunteer work to support worthwhile causes, interacting well with people from racial groups or cultures different from their own, and learning how to be a more responsible family member. The overall satisfaction with the undergraduate education received was 10.7% higher for the graduates of the private colleges.

The public college graduates indicated greater use of technology (4.1% difference), more frequent reading of newspapers (2.9%), and more watching of television news or other informational programs (3.9%); and there was a 3.2% salary advantage for the graduates of the public colleges or universities.

“The results will give us a much more rigorous look at the effects of these colleges on the lives of people in the region,” said Patrick T. Terenzini, professor and senior scientist at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Pennsylvania State University.

“A lot of money goes to support research on elite and major research universities, but we know much, much less about small regional liberal arts colleges,” Terenzini said. The study is being funded by grants from The Spencer Foundation (Chicago) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (New York City).

Terenzini and Pascarella created the survey instrument, which was then administered by the ACT college testing organization. The nationally acclaimed researchers have spent more than 30 years studying the effects of college on students, collaborating on much of their research. They are the authors of the book How College Affects Students, which received the 1991 Research Achievement Award from the Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Terenzini noted that in previous studies, differences between types of institutions (public versus private or big versus small) are rare, which makes the results of this study particularly interesting. Most of our ACA private institutions are faith related, which probably accounts for substantial differences in areas like ethics and values.

Pascarella and Terenzini also are anxious to look further at the percentage of students who remain in central Appalachia and what factors are statistically significant in determining that outcome. “That’s an important issue not only for the ACA study, but for the region itself,” said Pascarella.

Pascarella, Terenzini and 13 researchers from ACA institutions now are waiting for ACT to finish merging the responses of the 13,000 ACA alumni with the ACT data those individuals submitted when applying to college, which should take another month or so. High emphasis has been placed on confidentiality. The researchers then anticipate needing another 4-6 weeks to clean up the data before actually being able to report more substantive findings.

The private ACA schools are not the only ones that will benefit from the study. Data gathered from the public institutions will serve not only as a control for studies of the ACA institutions, but will also be analyzed by researchers at those schools to better understand and serve their populations. The public institutions which participated in the study are Eastern Kentucky University, East Tennessee State University, Morehead State University (Ky.), the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and West Liberty State College (W.Va.).

The 23 participating ACA schools were Alderson-Broaddus College (W.Va.), Alice Lloyd College (Ky.), Berea College (Ky.), Campbellsville University (Ky.), Carson-Newman College (Tenn.), Cumberland College (Ky.), Emory & Henry College (Va.), Ferrum College (Va.), Kentucky Christian College, Lee University (Tenn.), Lincoln Memorial University (Tenn.), Mars Hill College (N.C.), Maryville College (Tenn.), Milligan College (Tenn.), Montreat College (N.C.), Ohio Valley College (W.Va.), Tennessee Wesleyan College, Tusculum College (Tenn.), Union College (Ky.), University of Charleston (W.Va.), Warren Wilson College (N.C.), West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wheeling Jesuit University (W.Va.).

“The preliminary results of this study clearly indicate that all the colleges and universities are fulfilling their missions to prepare capable employees and well-rounded individuals,” said Alice Brown, President of the ACA. “What this study points out is how well many of the colleges are succeeding.” For additional information, contact Brown at (859) 986-4584, or by e-mail at AliceB@acaweb.org.

 

Summary of survey results:

Graduates of small private colleges in Appalachia take great interest in social and ethical issues and report an unusually high degree of satisfaction with their undergraduate education.

Private college graduates showed clear (up to 9%) advantages in 24 of the 28 questions asked about the retrospectively perceived contribution of the undergraduate college.

They showed strong advantages (10% to 34%) in the areas of developing ethical standards and values, appreciating literature and fine arts, developing self-confidence, actively participating in volunteer work to support worthwhile causes, interacting well with people from racial groups or cultures different from their own, and learning how to be a more responsible family member.

The overall satisfaction with the undergraduate education received was 10.7% higher for the graduates of the private colleges.

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MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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