NSSE Overview 2015

NSSE 2015 Overview

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) collects information from first-year and senior students about the characteristics and quality of their undergraduate experience. Since the inception of the survey, more than 1,500 bachelor’s-granting colleges and universities in the United States and Canada have used it to measure the extent to which students engage in effective educational practices that are empirically linked with learning, personal development, and other desired outcomes such as persistence, satisfaction, and graduation.

NSSE data are used by faculty, administrators, researchers, and others for institutional improvement, public reporting, and related purposes. Launched in 2000 with the support of a generous grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, NSSE has been fully sustained through institutional participation fees since 2002. After two years of pilot testing and extensive analysis, 2013 marked the first year of NSSE’s updated survey instrument and new customization options. This document provides an overview of NSSE 2015, the third administration of the updated NSSE.

Survey Data and Methodology

Nearly 1.4 million first-year and senior students from 585 institutions (564 in the US and 21 in Canada) were invited to participate in NSSE 2015. Of this population, 315,815 students responded to the survey. Less than half (43%) of these were first-year students and 57% were seniors.

NSSE’s sampling methodology calls for either a census of all first-year and senior students or a random selection of an equal number of students from each group, with the sample size based on total undergraduate enrollment. Census administration is available only via the email recruitment method, in which students receive a survey invitation and up to four reminders by email. For NSSE 2015, all but four participating institutions opted for this method. Sampled students at the four remaining institutions received up to three messages by postal mail and up to two reminders by email.

Unless noted otherwise, the results presented below are from 561 institutions—541 in the US and 20 in Canada— that participated in NSSE 2015. Due to nonstandard population files or survey administrations, 24 institutions are not represented. In these summary tables, as in each Institutional Report 2015, only data for census-administered surveys and randomly sampled students are included.

U.S. Participating Institutions

NSSE 2015 U.S. respondents profiled here include 300,543 first-year (43%) and senior (57%) respondents from 541 institutions. NSSE 2015 participating institutions and students reflect the diversity of bachelor’s-granting colleges and universities in the US with respect to institution type, public or private control, size, region, and locale (Table 1).

Institutional Response Rates

The average response rate for U.S. NSSE 2015 institutions was 29%. The highest institutional response rate among U.S. institutions was 89%, and three out of five institutions achieved a response rate of 25% or higher. Higher average response rates were observed for smaller institutions, and for institutions that offered incentives (Table 2).

Table 1

Profile of NSSE 2015 U.S. Institutions and Respondents and Bachelor’s-Granting U.S. Institutions and Their Students 
Institution Characteristics
Institutions (%)
Students (%)

Carnegie Basic Classificationb
Doc/Highest: Doctoral Universities
(Highest Research Activity)
Doc/Higher: Doctoral Universities
(Higher Research Activity)
Doc/Moderate: Doctoral Universities
(Moderate Research Activity)
Master's L: Master's Colleges and Universities (larger programs)32253631
Master's M: Master's Colleges and Universities (medium programs)111177
Master's S: Master's Colleges and Universities (smaller programs)5734
Bac/A&S: Baccalaureate Colleges—Arts & Sciences Focus151675
Bac/Diverse: Baccalaureate Colleges—Diverse Fields182387
Undergraduate Enrollment
Fewer than 1,000132032
20,000 or more662533
New England8866
Mid East19181516
Great Lakes17151915
Rocky Mountains4465
Far West9111212
Outlying Areas12<12
Notes: Percentages are unweighted and based on U.S. postsecondary institutions that award baccalaureate degrees and belong to one of the eight Carnegie classifications in the table. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.
  1. U.S. percentages are based on the 2013 IPEDS Institutional Characteristics data.
  2. For information on the Carnegie Foundation’s Basic Classification, see carnegieclassifications.iu.edu

Table 2

NSSE 2015 U.S. Participation and Response Rates by Undergraduate Enrollment and Use of Incentives
Institution CharacteristicsNumber of InstitutionsAverage Institutional
Response Rate (%)
Undergraduate Enrollmenta
2,500 or fewer24235
2,501 to 4,99911028
5,000 to 9,9999722
10,000 or more8920
Use of Incentivesb
Offered incentives33231
No incentives20925
All Institutions54129
  1. Three institutions had no enrollment information in the IPEDS data.
  2. Some institutions used recruitment incentives, such as small gifts or raffles, to encourage students to complete the survey.
    Institution Characteristics

Survey Customization

Participating institutions may append up to two additional question sets in the form of Topical Modules (NSSE-created) or consortium questions (for institutions sharing a common interest and participating as a NSSE consortium) (Table 3). Of the nine modules available in 2015, the most widely selected module was Academic Advising, followed by First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions (Table 4). Another customization option—including a question about sexual orientation in the demographic section of the core survey—was elected by 30% of participating institutions.

Table 3

Summary of NSSE 2016 Participation in Additional Questions Sets 
Selection of Additional Question SetsNumber of InstitutionsPercentage of Institutions
One module only12521
Two modules24041
Consortium items only173
Consortium items plus one module12521
Notes: These data include both U.S. and Canadian institutions and 24 institutions with nonstandard population files or administrations. Percentages sum to more than 100 because many institutions participated in two modules.

Table 4

NSSE 2015 Participation in Topical Modules 
Topical ModuleNumber of InstitutionsPercentage of Institutions
Academic Advising19734
Civic Engagement5710
Development of Transferable Skills539
Experiences with Diverse Perspectives458
Experiences with Information Literacy6110
Experiences with Writing6912
First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions13824
Global Perspectives−Cognitive and Social519
Learning with Technology5910
Notes: These data include both U.S. and Canadian institutions and 24 institutions with nonstandard population files or administrations. Percentages sum to more than 100 because many institutions participated in two modules.

U.S. Respondent Profile

Table 5 displays selected demographic and enrollment characteristics of NSSE 2015 U.S. respondents alongside all U.S. bachelor’s degree-seeking students, for comparison. Among NSSE respondents, female, White, and full-time students were overrepresented in varying proportions. NSSE reports use weights as appropriate to correct for disproportionate survey response related to institution-reported sex and enrollment status at each institution. Table 6 provides additional details about U.S. respondents.

Canadian Respondent Profile

Canadian respondents profiled here include 10,816 students (53% first-year, 47% fourth-year) from 20 institutions in 8 provinces, including 8 institutions in Ontario; 4 in Alberta; 2 each in British Columbia and New Brunswick; and 1 each in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Female students and full-time students accounted for about 64% and 92% of Canadian respondents, respectively. The average response rate for Canadian NSSE 2015 institutions was 44%, with the highest institutional response rate being 86%. Nine out of ten Canadian institutions achieved a response rate of 25% or higher.

About 13% of Canadian respondents were at least 24 years old. The majority of students providing ethnocultural information identified as White (74%), while 9% identified as Chinese; 7% South Asian; 4% Black; and at least 2% each Arab, Latin American, and North American Indian. Less than 2% of respondents identified with other categories.

Table 5

Characteristics of NSSE 2015 U.S. Respondents and Undergraduate Population at All U.S. Bachelor’s Degree-Granting Institutions 
Student CharacteristicsNSSE Respondentsa(%)U.S. Bachelor's-Granting Populationb(%)
African American/Black912
American Indian/Alaska Native11
Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Isl.<1<1
Foreign/nonresident alien44
Enrollment Status
Not full-time1116

Note: Percentages are unweighted and may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

a. The NSSE 2015 sampling frame consists of first‐year and senior
undergraduates. Data were provided by participating institutions.
b. U.S. percentages are based on data from the 2013 IPEDS Institutional
Characteristics and Enrollment data. Includes all class years.
c. Institution‐reported, using categories provided in IPEDS. Excludes
students whose race/ethnicity was unknown or not provided.

Table 6

Additional Characteristics of NSSE 2018 U.S. Respondents 
Student Characteristics%
At least 24 years old23
Expects to complete a master’s degree or higher62
Living on campusb39
Taking all classes online8
Note: Percentages are unweighted.
  1. No parent (or guardian) holds a bachelor’s degree.
  2. Campus housing, fraternity, or sorority.

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