Class of 2006 Dissatisfied with Advising, Social Experience

As social life marks heat up, seniors still lukewarm on concentration advising

Despite the College’s recent efforts to improve the undergraduate experience, members of the Class of 2006 said that overall, they were less than satisfied with their advising and social experiences. This continues a three-year trend of dissatisfaction among undergraduates.

According to an internal Harvard memo obtained by The Crimson, students remain dissatisfied with the amount of contact with their academic advisers and their concentration advising. Students also said they were less than satisfied with their social experiences.

The responses comprise the Harvard College Senior Survey, an annual survey administered to graduating seniors. Students were asked to rate on a five-point scale various components of their undergraduate experiences—ranging from their academic experiences to their post-graduate plans. In total, 1,524 of 1,641 graduating seniors participated in the survey last year.

While the memo obtained by The Crimson contained the questions and responses asked only of Harvard students, the survey also included a general section given to students of the 31 colleges in the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE).

The COFHE includes all eight Ivy League schools, other top research universities such as MIT and Stanford University, and leading small liberal arts schools such as Amherst College and Williams College. The results, circulated among the institutions, are used for comparative purposes.

In Spring 2005, the Boston Globe reported that overall, Harvard ranked fifth from the bottom in the 2002 COFHE survey, lagging behind other schools in advising and social life in particular.

COFHE administers the survey across colleges every four years.

The Globe reported that Harvard students in 2002 rated their overall satisfaction at 3.95 on a five-point scale, compared to an average of 4.16 at the other 30 schools surveyed.

But in 2006, Harvard undergraduates rated their overall satisfaction at 4.1 compared to a score of 3.95 in 2002. More than 80 percent of students said they were satisfied.

But the newest survey results were not all good news for the College.

According to the survey, students rated their satisfaction with concentration advising as “neutral,” the equivalent of a 3.0 on the five point-scale.

The response marks a slight decrease from 2004—the earliest date provided in the memo—and a slight increase from 2005, despite efforts by the College to improve advising.

Following a list of recommendations from the Harvard College Curricular Review’s Committee on Advising and Counseling, the College appointed Monique Rinere as Associate Dean of Academic Advising last December.

But administrators said yesterday that it was too early to evaluate the College’s efforts at improving social and academic life.

“In general, I am interested in the data, but I think it is too early to asses what the College has been doing,” Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 wrote in an e-mail. “Most of the seniors weren’t able to take advantage of the curricular changes, or the additions of social space, or the changes in advising.”

Interim Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Jeremy R. Knowles also cautioned about reading too much into the survey results from the Class of 2006.

“I rather doubt that the many recent changes (in advising, and elsewhere) in the College could have very significantly affected seniors who graduated in June 2006,” Knowles wrote in an e-mail. “I trust that in two or three years, we shall see these numbers rising to levels that will satisfy everyone, more”

THE DISMAL SCIENCES

Advising in the social sciences has routinely received poor ratings in these surveys. Many of the College’s most popular departments, including Government, Economics, and Social Studies, are classified as social sciences.

While the data does not break down the responses by specific concentration, it does categorize satisfaction according to academic field: humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.

In the last three years, social science concentrators have remained the least satisfied. In 2004, students rated their satisfaction slightly below neutral—a 2.9 on the five-point scale—and in 2005, students rated their satisfaction as 2.6. The Class of 2006 marked their satisfaction at a 2.8, a figure still below neutral.

Dean for the Social Sciences David Cutler said that administrators have started focusing on advising in the social sciences.

“We have started to do a lot more on advising,” wrote Cutler, who is also Eckstein professor of applied economics. “It’s a very big challenge because of the large number of students and the desire to tailor programs to particular students. But it’s an area where the College has thought a great deal, and where we believe we are making great strides.”

But not everyone believes that the College is on the right track.

“To be fair...the advising changes have not been in place long to have a noticeable effect,” McKay Professor of Computer Science and Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 wrote in an e-mail. “But the real question is not whether the College is doing enough but whether it is doing the right things. It’s not clear to me that replacing proctors by a large number of non-resident advisors, many of whom are not faculty, is automatically an improvement, for example.”

SOCIAL EXPERIENCE

Despite the College’s renewed efforts to improve the undergraduate social experience, students still remain less than satisfied, according to the memo.

The level of satisfaction among undergraduates with their social experiences increased from 3.6 in 2005 to 3.7 in 2006—a figure still below the “satisfied” level of 4.0.

In 2004, the College hired Zachary A Corker ’04 to a newly-created position intended to expand campus-wide social opportunities. Corker, who helped coordinate events such as the Harvard-Yale tailgate and two dodgeball tournaments during his yearlong tenure as special assistant to the dean for social programming, has continued his work as the project coordinator for the new Loker pub.

His successor last year, Justin H. Haan ’05, continued to plan large-scale social events such as last April’s Yardfest featuring pop-artist Ben Folds. Haan also oversaw the creation of the College Events Board, which received $200,000 from the College to plan campus-wide events.

Neither Corker, Haan, or reigning “fun czar” John T. Drake ’06 was available for comment last night.

But it is unclear whether the College’s new projects will solve students’ satisfaction woes.

According to the survey, students rated campus-based events as neither important or unimportant—a 3.2 out of five—to their social lives.

Undergraduate Council President John S. Haddock ’07 said that it was too early to measure the success of the College’s new initiatives.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before you see the new initiatives reflected in scores,” said Haddock last night. “We’ve seen a tremendous influx of money, and I think if you give it a couple of years, you’ll see tremendous changes.”

—Staff writer Alexander D. Blankfein can be reached at ablankf@fas.harvard.edu.