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 students 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 the 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 in the archive.

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.

If you are a student at USAO, please respond to your survey and let us know what you think. If you are a faculty or staff member, please encourage your students to respond to the survey. Thank you for your time and happy assessing!

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