• Working with professors who care about students personally
• Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals
• Working on a project across several semesters
• Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning
• Being active in extracurricular activities
As important as these various forms of engagement seem to be, relatively few college graduates say that they experienced them. While more than 60% of graduates strongly agreed that at least one professor made them excited about learning, only 27% strongly felt that they were supported by professors who cared about them, and only 22% said the same about having a specific mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams. Just under a third strongly agreed that they had a meaningful internship or job or worked on a long-term project, while just a fifth were actively involved in extracurricular activities.
Given the research on what matters in college, the best advice for choosing the right one would seem to be finding a place where the student will be engaged, in class and out, by all that the college has to offer. The good news is that engaging experiences of this sort can happen at a wide variety of colleges, regardless of selectivity, size or location. And with over 4,500 accredited degree-granting colleges in the United States, students have plenty of options from which to choose.
I am a big fan of "engagement," in education and politics, too. I also think, now that I have had some experience with college teaching, that the factors listed by Pope are, indeed, key. My wife, who has been recognized, officially, as a "distinguished educator," has provided me with a role model for my own teaching of Legal Studies courses at UCSC.
Marilyn taught, for the most part, at DeAnza Community College, though she taught at UCSC, too, during the time she was doing her graduate work and for a couple of years after gaining her doctorate; she is now back on the local campus, teaching in the Crown College Core Course, aimed at first year students. Neither DeAnza nor UCSC are the kind of colleges that have been caught up in the "bribery scandal," and yet some of the students my wife has taught have gone on to really impressive success, post-graduation. Marilyn taught a student who is now the Editor of Critical Inquiry, the most prestigious literary journal in the nation. She taught a student who went on to become Poetry Editor of The Atlantic. She taught a student who is now the Vice President of Foothill College.
"Engagement" is the key for students.
"Engagement" with the students is the key for the teachers!