Vsa Faq

NSSE has been selected as one of four assessment instruments about students’ experiences and perceptions for the VSA. Developed through a partnership between the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), the VSA is designed to help institutions:

  • Demonstrate accountability and stewardship to the public
  • Measure educational outcomes to identify effective educational practice
  • Assemble information that is accessible, understandable, and comparable

More information about the VSA is available at: www.voluntarysystem.org

The VSA's College Portrait provides information on institutional and student characteristics, attendance costs, student engagement, and educational outcomes. This information is intended for students, families, policy-makers, campus faculty and staff, the general public, and other higher education stakeholders. The College Portrait is divided into a number of sections that focus on student characteristics, admissions, costs and financial information, student experiences, student learning outcomes, and other areas.

NSSE results are used to complete the Student Experiences section in the College Portrait. NSSE is one of four assessment instruments selected by the VSA that provide information about six specified areas that academic research has shown to be correlated with greater student learning and development: group learning, active learning, experiences with diverse groups of people and ideas, student satisfaction, institutional commitment to student learning and success, and student interactions with faculty and staff.

This decision is left to the institution’s discretion. Each instrument has different characteristics to consider when selecting which measure to use, such as purpose, administration mode and timeline, sample section, and options for comparison information.

NSSE is specifically designed to assess the extent to which students are engaged in empirically derived good educational practices and what they gain from their college experience (Kuh, 2001). The main content of the NSSE instrument represents student behaviors that are highly correlated with many desirable learning and personal development outcomes of college. The survey is administered each spring term using Web-based and paper modes to random samples of first-year and seniors students who were enrolled the previous term. Therefore, all those who are invited to participate in the survey have had enough experience with the institution to render an informed judgment.

NSSE results provide information about student engagement at a particular institution and also include options for creating customized comparison groups. NSSE also supplies an institutional data file, which includes raw student responses to all survey items, including student identifiers for additional in-depth analyses.  For more information about what NSSE offers please see the NSSE Invitation to Participate : http://nsse.iub.edu/pdf/2013_NSSE_Invite_finalforWeb.pdf

Kuh, G.D. (2001). Assessing what really matters to student learning: Inside the national survey of student engagement. Change, 33(2), 10-17.

The decision to include only senior students’ results was made by VSA representatives and the various stakeholders who developed the College Portrait. However, you can provide access to NSSE results from your first-year students by linking to supplementary NSSE data and reports in the “CLICK HERE for examples of how State U evaluates the experiences of its students” in the College Portrait.


The decision to include only select NSSE items and not the NSSE benchmark results was made by VSA representatives and the various stakeholders who developed the College Portrait. However, you can provide access to additional NSSE results and your NSSE Benchmark Comparisons by linking to supplementary NSSE data and reports in the “CLICK HERE for examples of how State U evaluates the experiences of its students” in the College Portrait.

The VSA Board determined the NSSE items to feature in the College Portrait. According to the VSA, particular data elements were identified and selected as a result of seven task forces working together. These task forces were made up of college and university presidents, provosts, student affairs officers, institutional research officers, and faculty members. The task forces were aided by focus groups, feedback from the higher education community, researchers, and the research literature. Find further background on VSA's development of the College Portrait,http://http://www.voluntarysystem.org/overview.


Here are some suggestions for NSSE data and reports to add to the “CLICK HERE for examples of how State U evaluates the experiences of its students” and other sections of the College Portrait that allow links to additional information. NSSE documents containing your institution’s results can be downloaded from the Institution Interface: 

NSSE Pocket Guide Report: The Student Experience in Brief .Short, customizable report features student responses to NSSE survey items included in the Pocket Guide to Choosing a College

NSSE Executive Snapshot. A concise summary of some key findings from your institution's performance on NSSE.

NSSE Benchmark Comparisons. Report compares the performance of your institution with your selected comparison groups.

USA TODAY Database.The USA TODAY College Education Web site initiative ended in 2011. 


In short, no. To serve its national purpose of providing information in a common format, the College Portrait template is identical across all participating institutions. However, the template provides a number of opportunities for an institution to tell its distinctive story and use NSSE results to demonstrate institutional strengths. A supplemental page can be included with the College Portrait template if it is clearly labeled as a page added by the institution. See Frequently Asked Question #6 above for suggestions on additional NSSE data and reports to include on such a page.


The VSA requires that participating institutions participate in and report results from one or more student experiences and perceptions surveys: the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ), the College Senior Survey (CSS) from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), or the University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES). These surveys differ in what they measure, how they’re administered, and how much they cost.

Approximately 96% of institutions currently registered for the VSA have participated in NSSE. More than 1,300 baccalaureate-granting colleges and universities in the United States and Canada have used NSSE to document the extent to which students, faculty, and institutions engage in empirically-proven educational activities and to inform programs and practices that foster student engagement. NSSE asks first-year and senior undergraduates about their in- and out-of-class activities, what they feel they have gained from classes, their assessment of the quality of interactions with faculty and students, and other educationally-purposeful activities. Institutions can use NSSE data to measure aspects of the undergraduate experience that are consistent with good educational practices.

Institutions must register for NSSE by the mid-September deadline to participate in survey administration the following spring. Results are available in August. To register for NSSE, go to: www.nsse.iub.edu/html/registration.cfm

The cost of NSSE is determined by total undergraduate enrollment. Additional fees apply for institutions requesting oversamples and participating in consortia. Information about the costs of participating in NSSE is available on our Web site at http://nsse.iub.edu/html/pricing.cfm. There is no option to only administer the subset of NSSE items used in the VSA.


For questions about NSSE’s role in the VSA, please contact NSSE at nsse@indiana.edu or (812) 856-5824.

For questions about the VSA, please check the VSA Web site,www.voluntarysystem.org, for the most-up-to-date information or contact the VSA Executive Director, Christine Keller at ckeller@aplu.org

Voluntary System of Accountability

Institutions participating in the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) project can use the SPSS syntax linked here to help them more quickly gather NSSE data needed to populate the VSA's College Portrait template.


In 2011, The VSA mailed out over 16,000 promotional packets and new College Portrait posters to high school counselors across the country. You can find more information and download the flyer (PDF format) from the VSA Web site.

Related College Exploration Resources for Parents and Students

Evidence-Based Improvement in Higher Education

Center for Postsecondary Research
Indiana University School of Education
201 N. Rose Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405-1006
Phone: 812.856.5824