Class Profile 2003


James A. Calliotte Counseling & Advising Services

J. Worth Pickering Institutional Research and Assessment

The Old Dominion University Freshman Survey (ODUFS) is administered each year at Preview to the incoming freshman class primarily to identify students who may be at-risk for academic difficulty or attrition. The ODUFS developed by Calliotte and Pickering, was first administered in 1988, and the last revision was in 2003. The Profile included in this review is based on selected items from the current ODUFS (Freshman Class of 2003) and contains comparisons to the data from the University=s entering class of 2002. Comparisons are also included where some questions are similar to those of the 2002 national freshman survey conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) of ACE and the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute (results of their 2003 survey will not be available for several months).

During the past year a major revision of the ODUFS was completed using a database of over 5500 freshmen from the last four freshman classes (1999-2002). The Probation Score was revised and the minimum score for recommended intervention was adjusted from 12 to 9. With the increased sample size upon which it is based, the Probation Score has become a more efficient predictor of potential academic difficulty during the freshman year. A factor analysis of The ODUFS identified nine discrete factors, of which five are significantly related to academic difficulty after the first semester. Items that did not load on any factor, and were not part of the Probation Score, were deleted. However, a few items that were still deemed important to the description of the freshman class were retained in the present 2003 version. The ODUFS now consists of 115 items (down from 144) that are divided into several sections. It is now ready for testing at other institutions.

This Freshmen Survey Profile will report responses to selected questions in each of the major sections of the instrument. In general the responses do not change significantly from one year to the next, however, it is not uncommon for a few responses to demonstrate more significant fluctuations, and this year is no exception.

Reasons for Attending College

The first section of the ODUFS asks students to rate a variety of reasons for attending college as very important, somewhat important, or not important. As in previous years the most important reason for attending college was to be able to get a better job. This reason was seen by 94% of the 2003 freshman class as a very important reason for attending college (up 1 percentage point over 2002). In contrast, only 72% of the national sample of freshmen in 2002 endorsed getting a better job as a very important reason [This major contrast between Old Dominion University (ODU) freshmen and the national sample has always existed]. This item was followed in importance by learning more about things which interest me and being able to make more money, endorsed as very important by 80% and 75%, respectively. These percentages were both slightly lower than the responses of the class of 2002. While the responses to these two latter items are still slightly higher than the national sample, they are converging. The percentage of students citing preparing myself for graduate or professional school as a very important reason for attending college remained essentially the same as last year at 56%.

ODU freshmen continued to have a very strong career and financial enhancement focus as their primary reasons for attending college. Although the strength of earning more money as a very important reason has declined slightly, getting a better job remains as a considerably higher ODU student response in comparison to their national peers.

Reasons for Choosing Old Dominion University

These questions focused on choosing ODU specifically and used the same three point scale as above (Very Important to Not Important). Parents played a slightly less important role in choosing Old Dominion this year as students listing them as a very important influence dropped from 32% to 29%. High school teachers and counselors were also less important with 55% in 2003 listing them as not important versus only 49% in 2002. ODU students who are friends (32% vs. 35%) and graduates getting good jobs (55% vs. 58%) both decreased by 3 percentage points in the very important influences category in 2003.

Availability of major rose as an influence by 4 percentage points with 69% of students listing it as very important in 2003 versus 65% in 2002. The appearance of ODU’s campus also rose by 4 percentage points as a very important factor (35% vs. 31% in 2002). Old Dominion=s good academic reputation remained at the higher level it achieved last year with 55% indicating it as very important. This also remained equal to the national sample ranking of the importance of this reason for selecting their college.

A number of items related to finances as a reason for attending were mostly the same this year in comparison to last year. Cost of attending Old Dominion (41% very important) and, I was offered financial aid (32% very important) did not differ from 2002. The opportunity to work part-time was down three percentage points as a very important reason (34% this year), but this drop brought it back to where it was in 2001 before a 3 percentage point rise last year.

The three reasons that garner more than fifty percent very important responses remain: availability of major, graduates get good jobs, and ODU’s academic reputation.

High School Experiences

In the first part of this section, students were asked to indicate the number of hours per week spent during their senior year of high school in a variety of activities. The responses are arranged on a 5 point scale from 0 hours, to 1-5 hours, 6-15 hours, 16-20 hours, and over 20 hours per week.

More students spent only 0-5 hours per week studying or doing homework during their senior year of high school (65%) in 2003 than in 2002 (62%) or 2001 (58%). This continues a trend in fewer hours studying during the senior year of high school (for example, only 52% spent this relatively small amount of time in 1999). This trend is a reflection of the national trend where 67% of CIRP respondents studied 5 or fewer hours per week during their last year in high school.

The percentage of freshmen who reported working for pay 16 or more hours per week dropped slightly again this year in comparison to last, with 50% working that many hours as seniors this year in comparison to 52% last year and 55% in 2001. Nationally, only 32% of the CIRP sample worked 16 or more hours per week (also reflecting a 2 percentage point drop). The number of students who did not work at all rose 1 percentage point to 21% this year. In addition to work, socializing with friends remains the next most popular activity with 43% reporting spending 16 or more hours per week in this activity (up only slightly from 42% in 2002).

Another group of questions concerning senior year activities were answered using a three point scale from frequently, to occasionally, to never. An increasing percentage of the class of 2003 reported that they never drank alcoholic beverages (67% vs 64% in 2002), maintaining a trend in comparison to 1997 when only 57% indicated never drinking. The number of freshmen who reported that they frequently felt depressed remained at 6% this year.

Most ODU freshmen spent much more time each week in high school engaged in nonacademic activities such as working for pay or socializing with friends than they spent studying or doing homework. In order to be successful at ODU they will need to change their priorities to accommodate significantly more hours per week studying and doing homework.

Abilities and Traits

In this section students were asked to rate themselves on several academic and other abilities and traits in comparison to the average person their age. The scale has five points including: top 10%, above average, average, below average, and bottom 10%.

For the class of 2003, 72% saw themselves as above average/top 10% in general academic ability, compared to 70% in 2002. Self-evaluations of writing ability increased from 48% to 52% in 2003 in the above average/top 10% categories, but mathematical ability was rated the same by this year’s class at 45% above average/top 10%.

Time management skills (41%) and study skills (27%) were rated above average/top 10% in slightly higher percentages in comparison to last year. However, both of these skills were rated considerably lower than other skills, which has been a consistent finding in the ODUFS data over the past decade. In fact, these are the only areas of self-rating where significantly less than 50% rate themselves as above average/top10%. The lack of need to develop effective study skills and the previously indicated low number of study hours required to be successful in high school place beginning freshmen at a substantial disadvantage as they begin their college career.

Attitudes About Being a College Student

This scale of 10 items has been a powerful predictor of academic difficulty during the freshman year. It is designed to be a measure of individual commitment to the role of being a good student. Students answer the items on a six point scale from strongly agree (SA) to strongly disagree (SD). Some of these items changed up or down in the strongly agree response to a slight degree this year (2 or 3 percentage points), but two of them dropped rather dramatically. I admire good students changed from 64% strongly agree to 47%, and others see me as an effective student dropped from 66% strongly agree to 54%. The changes on both were predominantly from strongly agree down one level to moderately agree. Since these are unusually large annual changes, we have examined the data carefully and the downward changes are accurate. The other 10 items in this scale showed only more typical annual changes, either up or down 2 or 3 percentage points. As a caution in interpreting these two item-response changes, it should be noted that two different types of items from another scale that was deleted in this revision of the ODUFS were held over and added to this section. In each case, these two different items preceded the two that were answered more conservatively this year. Since no other items in the scale changed this dramatically, it may well be that these downward changes are an artifact of their placement in this revision. We will reassess the placement of the two new scale items and change this placement in the 2004 ODUFS and reexamine the responses next year.

Predictions About Your Academic Success

The first question in this section states, “nationally about 50% of college students leave before receiving a degree,” and asks, “if that should happen to you, what would be the most likely cause?" The first option is, I am absolutely certain that I will obtain a degree. A total of 65% indicated certainty in 2003, which was up one percentage point from 64% in 2002. Of the reasons listed for not graduating, to accept a good job (12% chose this reason, down slightly from 14% in 2002) and, it would cost more than my family could afford (9%, down from 10% in 2002) were the most common responses.

The remaining items in this section were answered on a three point scale from very good chance, to some chance, to no chance. Forty percent (40%) of the class of 2003 said there was a very good chance of graduating with honors, which was the same percentage as last year. In a similar vein, a total of 74% (also equal to last year) indicated a very good chance of earning at least a “B” average. ODU freshmen continue to enter with an inflated notion of their potential for academic success in college, presumably based on their previous high school grades.

Two questions on the ODUFS addressed the issue of transferring to another institution. The first asked the chances of transferring to another college at the end of my freshman year. Five percent responded very good chance, down from 6% last year and 7% the year before. A very good chance of transferring to another college sometime in the future was indicated by 10%, the same as last year. However, when students were asked the chances that they would return for the fall semester of my sophomore year, 69% indicated a very good chance (compared to 66% last year and 63% in 2001). While there are always discrepancies in the way students answer the two sophomore retention questions, the trend data for both is moving in a positive direction. The chances of being satisfied with Old Dominion increased to a higher level for the 2003 class with 77% (up significantly from 71% in 2002) indicating a very good chance. While there is no directly comparable question on the 2002 national CIRP survey, only 52% (up from 49%) indicated a very good chance of being satisfied with college on that survey.

Predictions About Involvement

In this section of the survey students were asked to make predictions about their level of academic and social involvement at Old Dominion University. The 12 questions in this scale cover a variety of aspects of involvement to which students respond on a four point scale ranging from never, to occasionally, often, or very often.

There was some small movement both up and down on this scale for the class of 2003 in comparison to 2002. Slight increases were shown in very often using the library for study and research (up 2 percentage points), thinking about courses outside of class and discussing them with other students (up 3 percentage points), and using Webb Center to eat and socialize (up fairly substantially by 6 percentage points).

There were reductions in the very often category for: participate in campus clubs and organizations (down 2 percentage points), making friends different from you (down 4 percentage points), and have discussions with students whose beliefs and opinions are different from yours (down 2 percentage points). Using campus athletic facilities was the same in the very often response category, but was down by 3 percentage points in the often response.

In the second part of this section, the number of students indicating a very good chance of working part- time while attending college remained the same as last year at 56%.

In general, while Webb Center appears to have gained in popularity as a meeting place, students seem to be somewhat less inclined to expand their relationships beyond those with whom they already feel comfortable.

Career Decision Status

The ODUFS includes a question designed to establish the current career decision making status of students. These data have remained remarkably consistent over the years that the survey has been administered. For 2003, 10% of students indicated that they had not made a career choice and were not particularly concerned about it; 16% had not made a career choice but were concerned and were interested in receiving assistance. Thus a total of 26% (down 1 percentage point from 2002) indicated that they were undecided as to future directions.

A total of 42% (up 2 percentage points) indicated that they had chosen a career but had not investigated it or other alternatives thoroughly. Many of these students will eventually alter their decision as they gain college experience, but some are very challenging for advisors to assist as their premature commitment is often very difficult for them to change, even when it appears advisable to do so. Finally, 32% (down from 33% in 2002) indicated that they had made a decision after appropriate investigation and knowledge.

While career enhancement is a major focus of college attendance for ODU freshmen, only about one third of entering students are firmly grounded in their career decisions upon entering the University.

College Choice Information

In 1999 a question was added to the survey with regard to the rank of Old Dominion in students’ choice of colleges to attend. The University was the first choice of 67% of the class of 2003, which is up 6 percentage points from the 61% first choice of 2002 and up 8 percentage points compared to the 59% of the class of 2001. ODU is now for the first time beginning to approach the national CIRP sample where 69% indicated that their current college was their first choice.


Change on the ODUFS from year to year is typically small, and, aside from two items that need further investigation, this year was no exception. The ODUFS continues to give a good picture of the characteristics of the entering class and, where applicable, some important comparisons with their national peers.

Incoming students continue to have a very strong career enhancement focus as their reason for attending college. While this is also a focus nationally, the strength of this reason among Old Dominion students far surpasses that of their national peers. When choosing Old Dominion for their college education, students tend to see the availability of their major, ODU graduates get good jobs, and the academic reputation of the institution as the most important factors. While of lesser importance, the appearance of the campus was selected more often as a very important factor this year than in previous years. Parents, teachers, counselors and friends all played slightly less of a role this year but, among individuals, ODU students who are friends remain the most important influence on student selection of Old Dominion.

The number hours spent in study and homework continued to decrease during the senior year of high school. The more extensive work for pay hours of 16 and above per week also continued to decrease. However, in this latter category ODU students continue to remain well above their national peers. Reported alcohol consumption during the senior year also continued to drop, with two-thirds indicating in this year’s ODUFS that they never drank alcoholic beverages.

Incoming students' perception of a variety of skills and abilities continued to demonstrate a trend of small incremental increases. Although, while slightly higher this year, students still rate themselves less well prepared in time management and study skills than in any other skill area. Despite their reported lack of preparation in these two key areas, and in addition to their lack of study time while in high school, students continued to enter ODU with very high expectations of substantial academic success in college.

Students’ intentions to persist to the sophomore year also continued to rise incrementally. This increase in intention to stay paralleled an even greater increase in students’ perception of their expected satisfaction with Old Dominion University. Students also planned to use Webb Center as a place to eat and socialize to a greater degree this year, but there was a slight downward trend in their interest in interacting with students who were different from them.

Finally, related to these persistence and satisfaction expectations, a significantly greater number of students than in previous years indicated that Old Dominion was their first choice institution.

Overall, the profile of the 2003 freshman class continues to show more positive trends for ODU in that: (a) fewer students plan to transfer to other institutions and more plan to return for their sophomore year; (b) significantly more students expect to be satisfied with ODU; and (c) a growing percentage of students indicate that ODU was their first choice institution.

However, the profile also suggests the need for continued concern about: (a) the time spent in high school engaged in nonacademic activities versus the time spent studying and doing homework; (b) the self ratings of study and time management skills compared to the self rating of general academic skills; and (c) the strong career orientation of students versus the fact that many of them are undecided or have selected a career without thorough investigation. These results, combined with the data that indicate the average academic success and retention rates for the last four classes seem to have plateaued, suggest the need for continuing close attention to developing, refining, and coordinating interventions for entering freshmen.