Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Astin, a giant in higher education research and a dedicated mentor to students and colleagues, passed away May 18, 2022. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is indebted to Dr. Astin for his research on the concept of involvement and the role of the college environment in relation to student outcomes. He rendered invaluable service to NSSE’s origins through his leadership as a member of the NSSE Design Team, a national group of assessment experts who designed the questionnaire and oversaw its field testing, and as a founding member of the NSSE National Advisory Board (2000–2004).
Astin was one of seven powerhouse scholars who contributed to Chickering & Gamson’s (1987) distillation of principles of good practice in undergraduate education that undergirds the concept of student engagement. In fact, many of NSSE’s items and indicators are grounded in Astin’s scholarship including the power of peers to influence learning and identity development, the value of student-faculty interaction, and the role of co-curricular involvement on student learning. Even more, Astin’s (1991) work on assessment in higher education documented the relationship between educational practices and processes and outcomes, confirming the necessity of process indicators like the constructs on NSSE to understanding outcomes.
“It is not possible to overstate the influence Alexander “Sandy” Astin had on higher education and specifically research on college students” asserted George D. Kuh, Chancellor’s professor emeritus of higher education at Indiana University Bloomington and founding director of NSSE. Reflecting on Astin’s scholarship and contributions to NSSE, Kuh stated that “Astin’s longitudinal studies into the impact of college on students and his involvement theory were foundational to the development of NSSE. In 1999, Sandy was a member of the NSSE Design Team led by Peter Ewell. In an early Design Team meeting, Sandy emphatically and persuasively made the point that to help energize and contribute to institutional improvement, NSSE had to be more than just another student survey. It needed to stimulate, help lead, and support a movement focused on enhancing the quality of the undergraduate experience. This became NSSE’s mantra and continues to guide its work to this day.”
Recalling Sandy’s wider influence, Peter Ewell noted his service on the Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in Higher Education—authors of the well-known report Involvement in Learning—and his accompanying broad impact on the practice of assessment in higher education. He also pointed out that Sandy was an unfailingly good colleague, according to all of those with whom he interacted with respect and good cheer.
NSSE pays tribute to Dr. Sandy Astin for his outstanding contributions to higher education research and for his outsized role in the early formation of the NSSE project. He leaves a significant impact on the field and a long legacy of contributions to undergraduate education.
Astin, A. W. (1991). Assessment for excellence: The philosophy and practice of assessment and evaluation in higher education. Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, March, 3–7.
Read more about Astin’s contributions to NSSE’s origin in NSSE’s Conceptual Framework (2013),