Intellectual Engagement: How Well Are Our Students Doing?

On October 9, at a lunch seminar sponsored by the Trinity Center for Collaborative Teaching and Research (TCCTR), Kent Smith and J. Hughes of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning (IRP) presented some of their recent research on the degree to which Trinity students are "intellectually engaged." Surveys conducted in 2001 and 2003 by IRP in conjunction with other colleges and universities provide comparative information on the degree to which Trinity students participate in research, read independently, and discuss intellectual material with faculty and peers.

Compared to students at peer institutions, such as Amherst, Carleton, Oberlin, Wesleyan, and Williams, Trinity students

  • write more (both papers, and creative writing), and speak and present in class more
  • report more contact with, and for-credit work for, faculty
  • appear similar to peers in the topics of conversation and their diversity of acquaintances
  • spend less time on campus organizations, participating in or talking about art, music and culture
  • are less likely to use the library to study or for extra reading, but more likely to ask librarians for help
  • are more likely to “study in groups,” but less likely to meet for "discussion"
  • spend four fewer hours per week on homework, but two hours more on partying, three hours more watching TV and two hours more on Greek activities

In turn, the reported level of contact with faculty is a strong predictor of GPA and of self-reported gains in intellectual skills and experiences. The amount of time students report talking to fellow students about intellectual topics predicts their self-assessed gains in learning, thinking, speaking and writing, such as their ability to “learn on one’s own,” “think analytically,” “speak effectively,” and “synthesize ideas.”

The paper will be published in November, but the Power Point presentation is available now from:

Contact Hughes with any questions at ext. 2376 or


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