Understanding the UC undergraduate experience: UCSC students asked to complete online survey to improve academic, cultural life

A team of researchers based at UC Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education has just launched the third University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES). The survey will be sent to undergraduates at all eight undergraduate campuses. In total, up to 160,000 undergraduates in the UC system will be invited to complete the online survey.

The UCUES survey is being administered by the new Social Science Survey Center at UC Santa Barbara. UCSC undergraduate students can access the survey by going to https://research.survey.ucsb.edu/ucsc/ and following the log-on instructions.
This unprecedented census approach to soliciting student feedback on the undergraduate experience will provide an invaluable source of information on the academic and civic engagement of students at UC. Campus officials and a team of academic and administrative researchers associated with UCUES urge students to complete the survey.

The survey includes a wide range of questions, including their use of technology, contact with faculty, the range of their civic engagement, satisfaction with their educational experience, and open questions on their observations.

UCUES is part of a larger project that seeks to improve the academic and civic experience of University of California undergraduates. This large collaborative project is led by Richard Flacks, professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara; Gregg Thomson, director of student research at UC Berkeley; and John Douglass, a CSHE senior research fellow at UC Berkeley. Kyra Caspary, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, is also a member of the UCUES research team, and the directors of institutional research at each UC campus have shaped the content of UCUES and are a key part of the survey's administration. "It is truly a UC-wide and collaborative effort," notes John Douglass.

UCUES is aimed at developing a wealth of new data on how students make use of the opportunities and resources of the University.

More broadly, stated Douglass, "the University of California, with its eight and soon to be nine undergraduate campuses, is a significant laboratory for investigating the changing nature of undergraduate education in a major American research university. UC faces large-scale increases in enrollment in the midst of declining state funding support, dramatic demographic shifts in the socioeconomic and ethnic composition of its student population, and the prospect of significant changes in how courses are delivered."

UCUES is intended to be an annual or biannual survey, he notes, "creating a database invaluable for tracking these changes from year to year, for identifying strengths and weaknesses in UC's undergraduate education, and for more fully understanding the changing nature of how students are taught and how they view their experiences."

"There are many undergraduate experiences at UC," explains Douglass, "dictated by such factors as a students' socioeconomic background, their choice of major, their objectives in attending a UC campus, and their opportunity to interact with faculty. This is the first time a major university has invited all students to share their experiences in a systematic way with the objective of translating research into actual improvements in their education."

There have been two previous UCUES surveys. The first survey was launched in the spring of 2002 and the second in the spring of 2003. However, these surveys were targeted at a sample group of students to represent all UC undergraduates.

At most campuses of the UC system, including UCSC, the spring 2004 UCUES is a "census" survey going out to all enrolled UC undergraduates. UC is the largest public research university in the nation and arguably the most prestigious.

Already, data and analyses from previous surveys have been used in UC Berkeley's recent accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and for assessing the quality of undergraduate education provided by academic departments. UCUES data is also generating new ideas on how to assess and potentially shape the university's new post-Proposition 209 admissions processes.

According to Richard Flacks, UCUES is innovative in several ways. "It is a major experiment in the use of on-line surveying to connect with entire student bodies and learn about how they view their lives as students. It provides the institution with important benchmark data for examining how students of diverse backgrounds are affected by their experience and by social changes. We hope to be able to track large numbers of those who respond to this survey in the future to examine the outcomes of their time in college. And we hope to create an exceptionally rich set of data resources for policy making and further research."

At a minimum, UCUES offers an innovative scan of the university's undergraduate student body with some surprising new information. "Respondents to our two previous surveys," explains Gregg Thomson, "have provided us with a more complete understanding of the remarkable demographic diversity of University of California undergraduates than previously available."

In a soon-to-be-published report summarizing the findings from the previous two surveys, the research team reports that some 55 percent of UCUES respondents have at least one parent who is foreign-born. "On the Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, and Riverside campuses," states Thomson, "this figure exceeds 60 percent. UCUES also offers more complete parental income data than previously available and provides us with the estimate that 23 percent of UC undergraduates have parental incomes under $35,000."

UCUES is jointly funded by the University of California Office of the President and the by the Vice Chancellors for Student Affairs at each of the University's eight undergraduate campuses.



. Julian Fernald, Assistant Director Institutional Research, UC Santa Cruz: (831) 459-4341

. Richard Flacks, Professor of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara: flacks@sscf.ucsb.edu or 805-893-3215

. John Douglass, Senior Research Fellow, CSHE, UC Berkeley: douglass@uclink.berkeley.edu or 510-642-5040

. Gregg Thomson, Director of Student Research, UC Berkeley: gthomson@berkeley.edu or 510-643-7006

SERU21/UCUES Project Website: ishi.lib.berkeley.edu/cshe/seru21/