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Self-study reflects on student experience

Brandeis analyzed its student population in the third part of a September 2018 self-study conducted as part of the university’s reaccreditation process by the New England Commissions of Higher Education (NECHE).

The fifth standard focuses on the student body, including counseling resources, financial aid and diversity at Brandeis. Looking forward, said the study, the university is focused on sustaining and enhancing current efforts in admissions. The university hopes to continue outreach, enlarge the applicant pool and increase the diversity of the student body. With student services, Brandeis hopes to continue to address the changing needs of students within an evolving society.

Brandeis is also focusing on another topic, “organizational restructuring and integration,” or the launching of a university-wide task force to look at the student experience at Brandeis. This task force was chaired by Associate Provost Kim Godsoe and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Muncaster.  

The self-study allows Brandeis to reflect on nine different standards provided by the NECHE. The standards of accreditation help to establish criteria for institutional quality, according to the Brandeis website. 

Standard V: Students

The fifth standard, students, ensures that the institution is setting and achieving realistic goals to enroll students that are representative of the population and promotes intellectual and personal development of its students, according to the NECHE website. 

Since 2017, the university has been working towards improving the Brandeis Health Center and Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC). They are generally working towards a “broader approach” for managing student wellness. 

Following an evaluation by an external resource done in 2017, two new positions were created, including a “case manager to work closely with students of concern and a wellness promotion specialist to implement a comprehensive, campus-wide health and wellness program for all students,” according to the self-study. 

The university also surveyed students from the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment. Through this survey, they learned that Brandeis students reported higher than average levels of anxiety, depression and stress. Because of this, Brandeis started the Care Team, which is modeled off of other support teams from other universities in the U.S. They also hired more staff “with specializations in eating disorders, substance abuse, and trauma, and we expanded our group counseling program,” according to the self-study. 

The university also joined the JED Campus Program which provides benchmarks on various efforts performed by an institution, including mental health, substance-abuse prevention and suicide-prevention, wrote the self-study. 

Through these efforts, the BCC saw a 12 percent increase in use from fiscal year (FY) 2014 to FY15 and a six percent increase in FY15 to FY16. The BCC also has services in multiple languages, including Cantonese and Mandarin, French, Spanish, German and Hebrew. 

Through student-voiced concerns about sexual misconduct on campus, Brandeis created the Office of Prevention Services to “coordinate campus efforts and provide confidential support services, and a task force for Sexual Assault Reponse, Services, and Prevention to review policies and procedure and make recommendations for change,” according to the self-study. 

The Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Misconduct, completed in 2015, further demonstrated issues of sexual misconduct on campus. All graduate students are now trained to be responsible employees under Title IX. Sexual violence prevention is now an integral part of new student orientation, explains the self-study, as well as bystander intervention training on the same topic. 

For financial aid, of the 420 students who enrolled in Brandeis in the 2016-2017 academic year that demonstrated financial need, only three students did not receive financial aid for undisclosed reasons, according to the self-study. These grants averaged $41,854. The average financial aid package for students during the 2016-2017 school year was $44,761, with 97.4 percent of need met. The study also noted a New York Times study conducted in January 2018 that ranked Brandeis 14th among 65 elite colleges in proportion of students from households in the bottom fifth of family income. 

The study also noted that the graduating class of 2017 reported an average of $26,289 in college tuition debt at graduation. The average in Massachusetts for that year was $31,466 according to the self-study. 

Brandeis is also constantly working towards diversifying the student body, wrote the self-study. This is done through a more geographical balance in acceptances and increased enrollment of underrepresented minorities. In 2009, 70 percent of students resided in the Northeast (which includes the New England and Mid-Atlantic states) and 17 percent from other parts of the country. In 2016, 58 percent of students were from the Northeast while 25 percent of students were from other areas. The university also noted that two-thirds of the international student population comes from China. In the 2016-2017 school year, 19 percent of the incoming class were international students.

Like many other universities, there is a “declining interest in the humanities among a generation of college students concerned about job prospects,” stated the self-study. Because of this, Brandeis created the Humanities Fellowship program in fall 2016, which provides merit scholarships and special academic opportunities to students enrolled in the program. 

The university also provides numerous programs that attract promising students from economically disadvantaged high schools and from groups that are typically underrepresented in highly selective colleges, explained the self-study. These programs include the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (MKTYP), founded in 1968 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Scholars. Brandeis is also a Posse Partner School, which is part of the Posse Foundation, founded by a Brandeis alumnus. 

Outside of academics, the “university takes on various responsibilities that extend beyond classroom instruction: to support student’s learning, to provide complementary kinds of educational (and recreational) experiences, to attend to their overall well-being, and to assist them in proceeding to the next stage of their lives (jobs or further studies),” stated the self-study.

Brandeis has over 250 different student organizations that all students are able to take part in. 

There are also 29 intramural sports leagues, 19 club sports teams and 19 varsity-level sports on campus, according to the self-study. 

The Intercultural Center (ICC) hosts 17 different student organizations and in 2014 established the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) for students of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Seven student groups are affiliated with GSC. The formation of GSC also helped to trigger a new LGBTQ support group in the BCC and created a policy that allows students to write their preferred names on rosters, according to the self- study. 

As a non-sectarian university, Brandeis also provides students the opportunity to practice a variety of different religious denominations, including: Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Buddhist and other Dharmic faiths alongside Judaism. The Chaplaincy Working Group produced a reorganization of chaplaincies under the leadership of director of spiritual and religious life. Rabbi Elisabeth (Liza) Stern is the current director. 

The hiring of the first chief diversity officer, Mark Brimhall-Vargas, in 2017, also helped to create the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which helps to further integrate all religions on campus. 

This is the third part of a series that looks into the self-study.

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