It's a Wonderful Life: Alumni Would Relive UW Education, Survey Finds

By Tom Griffin

If you had your life to live over again, would you still choose to go to the UW? About 76 percent of recent graduates answered "yes" in a survey conducted by the UW to measure its impact on alumni lives and careers.

For the first time in its 138-year history, the University of Washington conducted a poll of undergraduate alumni five and ten years after graduation. The Classes of '88 and '93 gave the UW high marks for their learning experience.

Asked if they were satisfied with the quality of instruction in their field, 82 percent of the alumni answered favorably. They also were highly satisfied with instruction outside of their fields (71 percent) and library services (83 percent).

But there was some discontent as well. About 67 percent were dissatisfied with assistance in finding employment, 45 percent reported a less than satisfactory amount of interaction with faculty outside of the classroom and 50 percent were unhappy with advising and other student activities.

For Associate Provost Debra Friedman, one of the most important parts of the survey was measuring what she calls "learning outcomes." The survey gave alumni a list of abilities-such as writing effectively, speaking effectively and problem solving-and asked them to rank its importance to their current "primary activity" (which for most young alumni is their job).

Problem solving came out on top, followed by working/learning independently, speaking effectively, working with technology and writing effectively. The UW then measured its impact on alumni success in these categories. In most areas, the UW's impact was close to the level necessary for their current positions, alumni said.

"These results help us make sure that the undergraduate education at the UW is on target," Friedman explains. For example, writing effectively averaged a 4.0 on a five-point scale of importance. Alumni said the UW's impact on effective writing averaged 3.5.

"I was expecting the gap to be greater," says Friedman. "The data contradicts the commonly held assumption that we are not teaching our students how to write."

There were two categories where the gap was wide between current needs and UW impacts: speaking effectively and technology. To probe further, Friedman compared the results to those from a similar survey of current UW seniors.

The UW appears to be solving the technology gap, she says. While 63 percent of the young alumni say they were infrequently or never exposed to computers as a UW student, 54 percent of current seniors report a high exposure to computers and other technologies.

"These numbers show that the UW can and does change. We've had a period of five to ten years where there has been a wholesale shift," she reports.

However, current seniors agree with alumni that there is not much exposure to effective speaking. "At most, there's been a modest change in the last 10 years," Friedman notes. "Our alumni are telling us that it's important to them."

Faculty will begin analyzing these results. "Perhaps there will be a speaking emphasis to some classes as there is now a writing emphasis," Friedman suggests.

The UW also surveys first-year graduates annually. Friedman urges alumni who receive these surveys to fill them out. "We take the results very seriously," she says.

Full results of the 5- and 10-year graduate survey can be found on the World Wide Web at the UW Office of Educational Assessment Web Site.

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