University sees increase in satisfaction among recent graduates

by Madeleine O'Connor

GW was Kara Wright’s first choice for college when she applied in 2006.

After four undergraduate years, she was hooked, opting to stay at GW as a graduate student and University employee.

“A lot of people that I work with have gone to GW for either undergrad or grad school, and I think that’s kind of [true] across departments,” Wright, who works in the Division of Information Technology while pursuing a master's in media and public affairs, said. “They’re happy to be GW grads and they want to keep supporting the school.”

Wright is among a growing population of former undergraduate students who believe attending GW was the right choice. An internal survey released this month, conducted by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, found that members of the Class of 2010 were more likely than seniors in any of the five years prior to look back confidently on their decision to attend GW.

University President Steven Knapp said anecdotally that “so many things” at GW moved in a positive direction during the years in question, but he was hesitant to draw a causal relationship between the survey results and specific changes.

Knapp noted the increasing institutional aid pool – which stood at $160 million this year – as a possible reason for the shift.

He added that an expanding population of satisfied graduates would foster alumni giving and establish stronger connections with current students, but called engaging the older alumni base “one of our biggest challenges.”

“There were periods in the past where students weren’t that happy,” Knapp said. “We were a so-called commuter school, and those schools tend not to...have as easy a time generating loyalty as schools in which there is a strong residential basis on campus.”

Since arriving in 2007, Knapp has emphasized fundraising to help wean the University off its dependence on tuition revenue in favor of dollars brought in through philanthropy.

Last year, the University raked in about $113 million in gifts – a record it’s on track to break this year.

Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger has said repeatedly that the spike in donations coincides with his department’s efforts to “knock on more doors.” The University has also moved to bolster its alumni programming in recent years, hosting more social events and using social media to drive constant communication with alumni.

Knapp also emphasized the University’s mounting academic status. Last year U.S. News and World Report ranked GW as the No. 50 university in the country, a standing it has not held since 1998.

“As we become a stronger and stronger institution, and as our reputation continues to grow, [alumni] are proud of that, even if they weren’t part of it,” Knapp said.

Completed by nearly all 2010 graduates, the survey showed that 67 percent of respondents would choose GW again, up five percent from 2008.

About 120 fewer students said they would not opt for GW again, while the portion of respondents who said they might make the same decision held steady at one-fifth.

The survey also showed more students believed they had improved themselves at GW. Slightly more respondents in 2010 indicated that they had increased awareness of social problems, had higher self-esteem and improved in goal-setting, oral and written communication and working as a team, Associate Provost for Academic Planning and Assessment Cheryl Beil said.

The internal research department distributed the survey via e-mail to graduates as a prerequisite to receiving graduation tickets. There were 2,267 respondents in 2010, representing 96 percent of the class.

The Class of 2010’s results show higher approval than cohorts that graduated between 2005 and 2009, neither of which broke two-thirds positive responses, previous data showed. Survey results vary from year to year, University spokeswoman Candace Smith said in an e-mail.

Senior Vice Provost for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said a slew of factors may have contributed to the marginal bump.

“While the results of the surveys certainly reflect satisfying results, there are probably too many interrelated factors that contribute to the improvement,” he said.

He cited improved facilities and the University’s rising selectivity and academic quality as possible causes. The Class of 2010’s higher overall test scores upon being admitted to GW may indicate that they were more prepared academically than other cohorts, he said.

This trend falls in line with the slight increases in students’ satisfaction with courses and interactions with professors also demonstrated by the senior survey, Beil noted.

“Hopefully, the survey for the graduating Class of 2012 will show even greater improvement over that for 2010,” Chernak said.

Mike Sullivan, who graduated in 2011 with a degree in political science, said he valued his GW experience for its District location.

“Some schools are in the middle of nowhere, but in D.C. there are so many opportunities to do anything you want,” Sullivan said, citing his internship with Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass. “Granted, everyone at GW has done [Congressional internships], but that’s something that not a lot of other people are able to do.”

The University’s location in the center of Washington, D.C. is something that President Knapp has been credited for touting as an incentive to potential applicants.

The resources of GW’s downtown campus are a major focus of the marketing firms tasked with rebranding the University’s visual image this semester. Their work will be unveiled to the GW community March 5 at a townhall hosted by the Office of External Relations.

Chelsea Radler contributed to this report.

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