The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and related projects provide the most comprehensive, high quality survey data on the use of effective educational practices in colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. An expert design team selected survey content that prior research has linked to positive educational outcomes. Some of the most prominent scholars who study college students have served on NSSE’s design team, technical advisory panel, and national advisory board. Nationally prominent scholars also use NSSE survey questions and data in their research.
Random samples of the subject populations (first-year students and seniors) or all members of those populations (depending on survey mode and institution size) are invited to complete the survey. Random sampling permits the comparison of results between institutions and over time. Sampling and centralized survey administration are carried out in accordance with best practices for survey research.
We take seriously our obligation to provide colleges and universities with data that have diagnostic value and that can be used to inform educational improvement. A recent analysis of time series data at more than 200 institutions suggests that NSSE is having the desired results. In Annual Results 2009, we found evidence that a good number of colleges and universities show positive trends over time on NSSE’s measures of educational quality, and hardly any show negative trends.
It is widely recognized that survey research is subject to a variety of sources of error, and NSSE is no exception. It is equally true that alternative large-scale, cost-effective means of learning about the student experience in a manner that affords comparison between institutions or over time simply do not exist. Findings from NSSE (as well as other surveys) are most informative when combined with other sources of information about students and their experiences. As always, we welcome constructive criticism and we strive to insure and improve the quality of NSSE’s data collection and services to participating colleges and universities (which number nearly 1,400 as of the 2009 NSSE administration).
From its inception, we have taken steps to ensure that our surveys are easy for students to understand and complete. We and others have undertaken research projects to confirm the positive association between student engagement and desired learning outcomes. At the end of this document are selected references related to this work. Particularly relevant are two research projects that investigated how respondents interpret and respond to NSSE questions. A peer-reviewed article on the subject (Ouimet et al., 2004) includes the following statements:
- Generally, students found the questions to be clearly worded and easy to understand. The number of items that prompted discussion [in student focus groups] was relatively small, less than 10% in most focus groups. (p. 240)
- The majority of students interpreted the questions in identical or nearly identical ways. (p. 247)
- Knowing that students responded in the manner intended by the designers of the instrument allowed us to analyze and interpret the resulting data with confidence. (p. 247)
More recently, the Connecting the Dots study (Kuh et al., 2006) concluded that the NSSE instrument works equally well for students of color and White students in different institutional contexts: “[T]he cognitive interviews and focus group results suggest that the vast majority of students at different types of institutions understand what is being asked, find the directions to be clear, interpret the questions in the same way, and tend to formulate answers to questions in a similar manner” (p. 52).
Carini, R. M., Kuh, G. D., & Klein, S. P. (2006). Student engagement and student learning: Testing the linkages. Research in Higher Education, 47(1), 1-32.
Kuh, G. D., Cruce, T. M., Shoup, R., Kinzie, J., & Gonyea, R. M. (2008). Unmasking the effects of student engagement on first-year college grades and persistence. Journal of Higher Education, 79(5), 540-563.
Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Cruce, T., Shoup, R., & Gonyea, R. M. (2006). Connecting the dots: Multi-faceted analyses of the relationships between student engagement results from the NSSE, and the institutional practices and conditions that foster student success: Final report prepared for Lumina Foundation for Education. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.
Nelson Laird, T. F., Korkmaz, A., & Chen, P. D. (2008). How often is “often” revisited: The meaning and linearity of vague quantifiers used on the National Survey of Student Engagement. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Diego, CA.
National Survey of Student Engagement. (N.D.). NSSE Psychometric Portfolio.
Ouimet, J. A., Bunnage, J. C., Carini, R. M., Kuh, G. D., & Kennedy, J. (2004). Using focus groups, expert advice, and cognitive interviews to establish the validity of a college student survey. Research in Higher Education, 45(3), 233-250.
Pascarella, E. T., Seifert, T. A., & Blaich, C. (2010). How Effective Are the NSSE Benchmarks in Predicting Important Educational Outcomes? Change, 42(1), 16-22.
Pascarella, E. T., Seifert, T. A., & Blaich, C. (2008). Validation of the NSSE benchmarks and deep approaches to learning against liberal arts outcomes. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in Jacksonville, FL.
Pike, G. R. (2006). The convergent and discriminant validity of NSSE scalelet scores. Journal of College Student Development, 47(5), 550-563.