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--Overall, most schools perform in the middle third of effective educational practice--leaving ample room for improvement.
By establishing a set of comparative standards, the researchers hope to change the subject of the college conversation from status to quality. So far, they seem to be succeeding. "They're getting closer to the actual kinds of things that go on in a person's undergraduate life, and that's important," says University of Iowa professor Ernest Pascarella. And institutions are eager to take part in the discussion. More schools applied than could be accommodated for both the first round of the survey and the second, which will occur this February.
The ultimate goal is improving education, not just talking. Yet talk has its value. "The indicators we use to look at schools affect what schools focus on," says Nancy Rankin, at the National Parenting Association. "If they know they will get publicity as the top school for professor-student mentoring, maybe they will encourage faculty to be more available to students." Parents and college applicants who want to join the discourse can view the list of participating institutions on the NSSE website www.indiana.edu/NSSE) if any colleges they're interested in are included, they can ask those schools for their results.