Perhaps not surprising in an election year, Wake’s 2016 incoming first-year students indicated on the Higher Education Research Institute’s (HERI) CIRP Freshman Survey greater concern for and more plans to become engaged with the world around them globally, politically, and through service. Wake Forest freshman also reported to be less concerned about financing their education and expressed less connection to the sciences compared to their peers. The Freshman Survey (TFS), administered at Wake since 2000, is a national survey useful for determining incoming college students’ background characteristics, high school experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and expectations for college.
TFS was distributed by the Office of Institutional Research in August 2016 to all Wake Forest incoming freshman students. A total of 652 students submitted responses out of 1,306, representing 50% of the first-year class. The respondents were fairly representative of the class by gender, although fewer survey respondents reported being Hispanic than in the entire entering cohort.
WFU Compares Favorably to Nation on Item Constructs
Due to the large quantity of individual questions asked and the complexity of assessing specific areas of potential concern, HERI developed a number of constructs which group information gathered from numerous items into a more reliable, cumulative measure. These construct scores, which provide a way of looking at overall trends among survey responses, have a population mean of 50 across all administering institutions and a standard deviation of 10.
Constructs in which WFU Scored Above National Average (WFU Average Score):
- College Reputation Orientation (54.7)
- Civic Engagement (53.7)
- Likelihood of College Involvement (53.5)
- Academic Self-Concept (53.0)
Constructs with positive movement at WFU since the 2014 survey included Social Agency (50.7 in 2014 vs. 52.7 in 2016), College Reputation Orientation (52.7 vs. 54.7), and Civic Engagement (51.3 vs. 53.7). However, the Habits of Mind construct score decreased at WFU since 2014 (53.8 vs. 51.1).
There are several notable differences between 2016 first-year students’ responses at WFU and Very Highly Selective Private Universities. WFU first-year students scored lower on Science Identity (WFU 48.0 vs. Peers 52.1), Science Self-Efficacy (51.1 vs. 53.3), and Academic Self-Concept (53.0 vs. 55.3). WFU respondents only scored higher than peers on the College Reputation Orientation construct (54.7 vs. 53.1).
WFU’s 2016 women significantly outscored WFU’s men in the Likelihood of College Involvement construct (56.2 women vs. 50.5 men). Furthermore, women had higher scores in Social Agency (53.6 vs. 51.7) and Civic Engagement (54.7 vs. 52.6). Conversely, men scored higher in Academic Self-Concept (54.8 vs. 51.5) and Social Self-Concept (52.5 vs. 50.5).
White respondents in 2016 at WFU scored lower than All Other races at WFU in Pluralistic Orientation (50.1 white vs. 51.7 all other), Social Agency (52.3 vs. 53.7), and Science Identity (47.3 vs. 50.2).
Students at WFU in 2016 who indicated no financial concern in funding their education scored higher on Social Self-Concept (52.2 vs. 50.4) and Science Self-Efficacy (51.8 vs. 50), but lower in Likelihood of College Involvement (53 vs. 54.3).
Individual Items of Note
Although less reliable than constructs, individual questions provide a closer look at notable changes within Wake Forest.
Items Where More Wake Students…
- Indicated spending increased amount of time on social networks (in high school)
- Strongly agreed that global climate change should be a federal priority
- Indicated confidence in their own critical thinking ability
- Indicated improving their understanding of other countries and cultures is essential
- Indicated there is very little or no chance they will work on a professor’s research project.
Items Where Fewer Wake Students…
- Indicated frequently performing volunteer work in the past year
- Indicated having frequently asked questions in class in the past year
More Wake first-year respondents compared to Very Highly Selective Private University respondents reported in TFS to:
- Be white
- Have applied to only one college
- Intend major/career being business
- Frequently attend a religious service
- Be conservative rather than liberal
- Have no financial concern in funding college education
- Strongly disagree about belonging to the field of science
- Making a personal contribution to science being not important
- Have a very good chance to seek tutoring for specific courses
- Have frequently/occasionally consumed beer and wine/liquor
- Have a very good chance of joining fraternity/sorority
Fewer Wake respondents compared to Very Highly Selective Private University respondents reported in TFS to:
- Have received need-based grants or scholarships
- Anticipate getting a job to help pay for college expenses
- Agree that wealthy people should pay a larger share of taxes than they do now
- Agree strongly that the federal government should have stricter gun laws
A greater percentage of Wake respondents than Very Highly Selective Private University respondents indicated the following reasons were not important in their decision to attend their university:
- Offered financial assistance
- The cost of attending this college
In deciding to come to their institution, more WFU respondents indicated the following reasons were very important compared to peers at Very Highly Selective Private Universities.
- Wanted to go to a school with their institution’s size
- A campus visit
- Rankings in national magazines
Wake Forest added several custom question to The Freshman Survey, including many for the first time in 2016. On items asked previously, more WFU respondents in 2016 than in 2014:
- Thought overseas study would be the most significant experience in shaping their understanding of foreign cultures
- Felt study abroad to be very significant to education
- Would like to participate in a one semester study abroad program, compared to programs of other lengths