Offer of the College

It’s late March 2020, and as with nearly all colleges and universities across the country, Bowdoin has moved online for the rest of the semester.  And as we adapt, we try to do the normal things we usually do, to the best extent possible.  For students in Quantitative Analysis of Political Science (GOV 2080), this included a survey of students on-campus.  I call this the annual “Polar Poll.”  We spent the better part of February thinking about good practices in survey design.  We went “in the field” in early March and have collected about 250 responses to-date, most before the break.  The survey is conducted online, after sampling 500 random Bowdoin student emails.  We turn now to an analysis of the results.

This year, we asked some really interesting questions.  One included a battery of “feeling thermometer” questions about the constituent parts of the “Offer of the College.”  Bowdoin describes this as “what Bowdoin can offer you.”  Here is the Offer:

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 3.15.37 PM

We separated these into 8 statements, generally those split by semi-colons: “to be at home in all ages and lands” vs. “To the carry the key’s of the world’s library in your pocket.”  We divided “to count nature a familiar acquaintance” from “art an intimate friend.”  We asked students: “Rate the [statement] from 0 to 100, where 0 would indicate that Bowdoin has not offered you enough opportunities in that area.  100 would indicate that the College has provided many chances for you.  50 would indicate that you are unsure or neutral on the opportunities in that area.”

Below, I graph the mean assessment across all 8 phrases against the students’ self-described ideological views (again from 0 to 100, with 100 being very conservative).  One might wonder, in an age where higher education is often under attack as “too liberal,” how do students of different political persuasions assess the opportunities offered at Bowdoin, the core opportunities of the liberal arts?  Are conservatives disappointed with Bowdoin?

In short, Bowdoin seems to be doing a good job.  Mean assessments across the Offer are about 70 (I’ll say more about the variation across the phrases in a different post) and unrelated to political ideology.  The liberal skew in students’ political views is apparent in the cluster of cases on the left end of the x-axis, but the smaller set of more conservative students have a wide range of assessments about the Offer, some very very high and some very low.  Indeed, the lowest ratings for the Offer come from three very liberal students.

Politics today is very polarized and polarizing.  But Bowdoin provides opportunities to all and seems to be succeeding in that effort.


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