NSSE Overview 2016

NSSE 2016 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 1,600 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. The NSSE questionnaire was substantially updated in 2013, including new customization options. This document provides an overview of NSSE 2016, including administration details, response rates, participating institutions, and respondent characteristics

Survey Data and Methodology

Over 1.3 million first-year and senior students from 557 institutions (530 in the US and 27 in Canada) were invited to participate in NSSE 2016. Of this population, 311,086 students responded to the survey. Less than half (45%) of these were first-year students and 55% 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. In 2016, all but two participating institutions opted for this method. Sampled students at the two 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 537 institutions—512 in the US and 25 in Canada—that participated in NSSE 2016. Due to nonstandard population files or survey administrations, 20 institutions are not represented. In these summary tables, as in each Institutional Report 2016, only data for census-administered surveys and randomly sampled students are included.

U.S. Participating Institutions

NSSE 2016 U.S. respondents profiled here include 292,031 first-year (45%) and senior (55%) respondents from 512 institutions. NSSE 2016 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 2016 institutions was 29%. The highest institutional response rate among U.S. institutions was 77%, 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).

Institutions had the option to use their learning management system or student portal to recruit students. In 2016, 36 U.S. institutions chose this option, and the average percentage of students who accessed the survey this way was 27%.

Table 1

Profile of NSSE 2016 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)28252731
Master's M: Master's Colleges and Universities (medium programs)131187
Master's S: Master's Colleges and Universities (smaller programs)7743
Bac/A&S: Baccalaureate Colleges—Arts & Sciences Focus151775
Bac/Diverse: Baccalaureate Colleges—Diverse Fields152267
Undergraduate Enrollment
Fewer than 1,000122032
20,000 or more662434
New England8886
Mid East16181316
Great Lakes13151414
Rocky Mountains4375
Far West811813
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 2014 IPEDS Institutional Characteristics data.
  2. For information on the Carnegie Foundation’s 2015 Basic Classification, see carnegieclassifications.iu.edu

Table 2

NSSE 2016 U.S. Participation and Response Rates by Undergraduate Enrollment and Use of Incentives
Institution CharacteristicsNumber of InstitutionsAverage Institutional
Response Rate (%)
Undergraduate Enrollment
2,500 or fewer30236
2,501 to 4,99912429
5,000 to 9,99911423
10,000 or more9622
Use of Incentivesa
Offered incentives36033
No incentives27626
All Institutions63630
  1. Some institutions used recruitment incentives, such as small gifts or raffles, to encourage students to complete the survey.

Survey Customization

Participating institutions may append up to two additional question sets in the form of NSSE Topical Modules or consortium questions (for institutions sharing a common interest and participating as a NSSE consortium) (Table 3). Of the nine modules available in 2016, the most widely adopted 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 32% 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 only12522
Two modules23843
Consortium items only132
Consortium items plus one module9217
Notes: Includes U.S., Canadian, other international institutions, and institutions with nonstandard population files or administrations. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

Table 4

NSSE 2016 Participation in Topical Modules 
Topical ModuleNumber of InstitutionsPercentage of Institutions
Academic Advising18834
First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions14827
Global Learning6712
Experiences with Information Literacy6011
Experiences with Writing5410
Civic Engagement509
Development of Transferable Skills478
Learning with Technology417
Experiences with Diverse Perspectives387
Notes: Includes U.S., Canadian, other international institutions, and institutions with nonstandard population files or administrations. Percentages sum to more than 100 because many institutions selected two modules.

U.S. Respondent Profile

Table 5 displays selected demographic and enrollment characteristics of NSSE 2016 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 institutionreported sex and enrollment status at each institution. Table 6 provides additional details about U.S. respondents.

Canadian Respondent Profile

Canadian respondents profiled here include 13,831 students (56% first-year, 44% fourth-year) from 25 institutions in 7 provinces, including 8 institutions in Ontario; 6 each in Alberta and British Columbia; 2 in New Brunswick; and 1 each in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. Female students and full-time students accounted for about 69% and 86% of Canadian respondents, respectively. The average response rate for Canadian NSSE 2016 institutions was 39%, with the highest institutional response rate being 74%. Twenty-one of the Canadian institutions achieved a response rate of 25% or higher.

About 26% of Canadian respondents were at least 24 years old. The majority of students providing ethnocultural information identified as White (78%), while 6% identified as Chinese; 5% South Asian; 4% Black; and at least 2% each Métis and North American Indian. Less than 2% of respondents identified with other categories.

Table 5

Characteristics of NSSE 2016 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/Black1012
American Indian/Alaska Native11
Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Isl.<1<1
Foreign/nonresident alien44
Enrollment Status
Not full-time1117

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

a. The NSSE 2016 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 2014 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.

Evidence-Based Improvement in Higher Education

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