National Survey of Student Engagement

National Survey of Student EngagementThe National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) obtains, on an annual basis, information from tens of thousands of students at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. The NSSE survey, administered during the spring academic term to randomly selected first-year students and seniors, asks about their participation in programs and activities that institutions offer for learning and personal development. The results provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college.

The voluminous research on college student development shows that the time and energy students devote to educationally purposeful activities is the single best predictor of their learning and personal development. Those institutions that more fully engage their students in the variety of activities that contribute to valued outcomes of college can claim to be of higher quality compared with other colleges and universities where students are less engaged.

Survey items on NSSE represent empirically confirmed “good practices” in undergraduate education— behaviors by students and institutions that are associated with desired outcomes of college. Toward this end, NSSE asks students to report the frequency with which they participated in dozens of activities that represent good educational practices, such as interaction with faculty members and advisors, special programs, and other opportunities for learning and development that the college provides. Additional items assess the amount of reading and writing students did during the current school year; the number of hours per week they devoted to schoolwork, extracurricular activities, employment, and family matters; the nature of their examinations and coursework; and whether they took part in a learning community, an internship, community service, study abroad, or research with a faculty member.

In addition, students report their perceptions of the college environment, such as the extent to which the institution offers the support they need to succeed academically and the quality of relationships among various groups, such as faculty and students. Students also estimate their educational and personal growth since starting college in the areas of general knowledge; intellectual skills; written and oral communication skills; personal, social, and ethical development; and vocational preparation. Students also provide information about their background, including age, gender, race or ethnicity, living situation, educational status, and major field.

Institutions receive a series of comparisons that allow them to review their performance alongside that of peer institutions, their Carnegie type, and national norms. Also, schools get a data file with their students’ responses so that they can conduct additional analyses if they have local institutional review board approval to do so.

Institutions use NSSE data to identify aspects of the undergraduate experience inside and outside the classroom that can be improved through changes in policies and programs. This information can also be used by prospective college students, their parents, college counselors, academic advisers, institutional research officers, and researchers who wish to learn more about how students spend their time at different colleges and universities and what they gain from their experiences.


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  5. National Survey of Student Engagement. (2006). Engaged learning: Fostering success of all students. Bloomington: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.