Looking beyond Undergraduates' Attitude about a University-Wide Writing Requirement

Article excerpt

A sample of 263 junior and senior undergraduates (101 males, 162 females) participated in a study to determine relationships between their agreement/disagreement about a university-wide writing competency graduation requirement and (1) level of writing capability as measured by the Texas Higher Education Assessment (THEA) test, (2) attitudes toward writing in college classes, (3) challenges encountered in writing, and (4) self-regulatory strategies to resolve writing challenges. Students with "high" THEA writing scores approved of the writing graduation requirement, desired more writing in college classes, and sought help in resolving writing dilemmas. Students with "low and average" THEA writing scores disagreed with the graduation policy, desired less writing in classes, and used negative practices to resolve writing challenges. Survey instrument and suggestions for practitioners are included.

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Personnel in post-secondary institutions have a vested interest in knowing and understanding how students are doing--their level of satisfaction with their overall university experiences (Gillis, 1988; Murrell, & Glover, 1996), how they feel about specific university services (Paradise, & Papa-Lewis, 1986; Webb, & Bloom, 1981), and whether or not they are succeeding in courses. Student feedback can be gathered on a specific program or system-wide basis and can offer university administrators and faculty significant insights about many aspects of the university. Most importantly, faculty can gain important information about class requirements and their instructional methods from the student' viewpoints.

The present study was designed to obtain information on undergraduates' perceptions about the junior level essay--a longstanding locally developed, holistically scored writing competency examination required for graduation. The focus of the study was of interest because the only feedback university officials consistently received was summarized results of Junior Level Essay administrations three times per year. During the more than fifty years that the university has maintained the writing requirement for graduation, more students than faculty have questioned its necessity. However, no known documented evidence exists about obtaining student feedback on this requirement. Furthermore, there were no known attempts to obtain information about the educational characteristics of students with differential writing scores on the THEA or the Junior Level Essay.

The writing competency graduation requirement at the regional university began in 1950 when support for writing competency in colleges and universities was virtually unknown or was a guarded secret. However, when the nationwide push for basic skills assessment gained momentum in the early 1990's, the writing competency exam at the regional university was in vogue. Generalized support for writing provoked by the nationwide movement on basic skills assessment strengthened the university's stance on the value placed on writing.

Academia has historically considered writing to be the most highly developed, abstract, and complex language mode (Gambell, 1991). The importance of writing in a college setting, however, is best reflected in the belief that writing ability is used to communicate thoughts, including what is learned and is a critical element of a college education. Gambell (1991) adds that college students are expected to possess the ability to communicate their thoughts in writing because, "at the undergraduate level writing is the dominant, if not exclusive, language mode through which learning is evaluated", p. 421. Writing may enjoy generalized support on college campuses because students use this skill in all aspects of the university experience such as, taking notes, developing essays, and responding to examinations--each unequivocally related to college success.

While the study was not considered an in-depth formative or summative self-evaluation of undergraduates' writing experiences, it was believed that feedback from students in the present study could not be overlooked. …