National Survey of Student Engagement at USAO

Over the next few weeks USAO students will be asked to participate in the National Survey of Student Engagement (commonly known as NSSE). Since we are asking student to participate, I thought it would be a good idea to speak a bit about what NSSE is, what it measures and why it is important to USAO.

What is NSSE?

As the name suggests, NSSE is a survey administered to college students all over the country. At a general level, this survey attempts to quantify the academic experience of first- and last-year students. Survey questions include items measuring difficulty of coursework, perceived grading fairness, and the amount of preparation necessary to pass courses. To a lesser extent, NSSE also measures non-academic experiences such as quality of social interactions and student services.

All survey responses are aggregated, such that no individual student’s responses are known. Only group averages are reported, such as gender, major, classification, etc. In fact, this is one of few studies were nobody on campus has access to individual results; normally, I have access to individual-level data in order to facilitate supplemental studies. Once all the data is collected and aggregated, the people administering NSSE publish a report with their findings. Follow this link to view USAO’s NSSE results archives.

What does NSSE Measure?

Having already discussed what NSSE is in general terms, it may be useful to know a bit more about just what types of information is gathered. Perhaps the best way of doing that is to list the different subscales along with a brief description of each. Please note, I have borrowed these descriptions directly from the most recent NSSE report, though I take full credit for all typographical errors:

  • Level of Academic Challenge: Extent to which a school promotes student achievement by emphasizing academic effort and high performance standards
  • Active and Collaborative Learning: Extent to which instruction emphasizes active elaboration and collaboration.
  • Student-Faculty Interaction: Extent to which students interact with faculty both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Enriching Educational Experiences: Extent to which students are provided with opportunities to enhance academic programs through internships, externships, community service and other vectors.
  • Supportive Campus Environment: Extent to which students perceive their college as cultivating positive working and social relationships between various campus groups.

Why is NSSE Important?

I will be honest with you all here: the “why” part of any research project is always the hardest for me to answer well. For me, data has a value that nears the intrinsic- as long as you have data, the potential for learning something that wasn’t known before is always there. So it follows that for me, more data is always better.

Chances are that if you are reading this, you are not me and as a result deserve a more coherent and practical reason. Inexorably, this leads me to discuss the extrinsic value of data: What can we do with it? In the case of NSSE, USAO administrators are provided a glimpse into the mind of our students to see what they think about the services we provide. Every one of us wants to believe that we are doing a fantastic job, but the only way to really know is to ask those we serve. We could do that asking in a number of different ways and NSSE is one of them.

One of the particular strengths of NSSE is the ability to compare our performance not just over time, but also in relation to other schools. Because this survey is so well established, many schools around the country administer it to their students and this allows us to see how we compare.

Closing Remarks

If you are a student and eligible for participation, I implore you to take the survey. Check your email accounts for the link. Early reports indicate that something like 11% of all email invitations are undeliverable- this probably means that the inbox is full and can’t receive any more. So clean those out and take a few minutes for NSSE. While you do that, you are less likely to contract a deadly virus. Probably.

If you are a parent, alumni or external policy maker, I invite you to check out our results archive (USAO’s NSSE results archives). I do this will full confidence, as I have gone over that data and find that we compare pretty favorably to other colleges and universities. This is how researchers brag. See also, humblebrag. It’s a word the kids made up.

If you are a member of the faculty, staff or administration, I ask that you too take a look at our previous NSSE survey results. Student experiences rest squarely upon our shoulders and though previous results have been pretty good, I bet we can do even better. NSSE results will go a long way in telling us where we can improve the most.

And finally, if you are any one of the growing USAO family and want more details about how USAO has done in the past where NSSE is concerned, keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming NSSE Results series. I promise to include as many graphs as you can possibly want.

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