NSSE Overview 2017

NSSE 2017 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 2017, including administration details, response rates, participating institutions, and respondent characteristics.

Survey Data and Methodology

Approximately 2 million first-year and senior students from 725 institutions (650 in the US, 72 in Canada, and 3 in other countries) were invited to participate in NSSE 2017. Of this population, 517,850 students responded to the survey. Less than half (47%) of these were first-year students and 53% 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 2017, 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 708 institutions—636 in the US and 72 in Canada—that participated in NSSE 2017. Due to nonstandard details of their participation, 17 institutions are not represented. In these summary tables, as in each Institutional Report 2017, only data for census-administered and randomly sampled students are included.

U.S. Participating Institutions

NSSE 2017 U.S. respondents profiled here include 382,530 first-year (44%) and senior (56%) respondents from 636 institutions. NSSE 2017 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). A searchable list of participating institutions is on the NSSE website: nsse.indiana.edu/html/participants.cfm

Institutional Response Rates

The average response rate for U.S. NSSE 2017 institutions was 30%. The highest institutional response rate among U.S. institutions was 76%, 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 2017, 92 U.S. institutions chose this option, and the average percentage of students who accessed the survey this way was 24%.

Table 1

Profile of NSSE 2017 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)29243228
Master's M: Master's Colleges and Universities (medium programs)131387
Master's S: Master's Colleges and Universities (smaller programs)8953
Bac/A&S: Baccalaureate Colleges—Arts & Sciences Focus161584
Bac/Diverse: Baccalaureate Colleges—Diverse Fields151975
Undergraduate Enrollment
Fewer than 1,000152132
20,000 or more763034
New England9886
Mid East18181516
Great Lakes15151614
Rocky Mountains2365
Far West11101313
Outlying Areas<12<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 2016 IPEDS Institutional Characteristics data.
  2. For information on the Carnegie Foundation’s 2015 Basic Classification, see carnegieclassifications.iu.edu

Table 2

NSSE 2017 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 2017, the most widely adopted was Academic Advising, cfollowed by First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions (Table 4).


Table 3

Summary of NSSE 2017 Participation in Additional Questions Sets 
Selection of Additional Question SetsNumber of InstitutionsPercentage of Institutions
One module only14119
Two modules28740
Consortium items only253
Consortium items plus one module19427
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 2017 Participation in Topical Modules 
Topical ModuleNumber of InstitutionsPercentage of Institutions
Academic Advising22531
First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions20829
Inclusiveness and Engagement with Cultural Diversity13318
Development of Transferable Skills8812
Experiences with Writing659
Civic Engagement598
Global Learning547
Experiences with Information Literacy446
Learning with Technology335
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 2017 U.S. respondents alongside all U.S. bachelor’s degree-seeking students for comparison. 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 130,291 students (54% first-year, 46% fourth-year) from 72 institutions in 10 provinces, including 26 institutions in Ontario; 13 in Quebec; 8 in Alberta; 7 in British Columbia; and 18 others from either Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, or Prince Edward Island. Female students and full-time students accounted for about 65% and 89% of Canadian respondents, respectively. The average response rate for Canadian NSSE 2017 institutions was 37%, with the highest institutional response rate being 75%. Nine in ten achieved a response rate of 25% or higher.

About 17% of Canadian respondents were at least 24 years old. The majority of students providing ethnocultural information identified as White (63%), while 12% identified as Chinese; 8% South Asian; 5% Black; 4% Arab; and about 2% from each of five other categories.

Table 5

Characteristics of NSSE 2017 U.S. Respondents and Undergraduate Population at All U.S. Bachelor’s Degree-Granting Institutions 
Student CharacteristicsaNSSE Respondentsb(%)U.S. Bachelor's-Granting Populationc(%)
African American/Black1012
American Indian/Alaska Native11
Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Isl.<1<1
Foreign/nonresident alien44
Enrollment Status
Not full-time1216
Note: Percentages are unweighted and may not sum to 100 due to rounding.
  1. Institution-reported, using categories provided in IPEDS. Race/ethnicity excludes students whose classification was unknown or not provided.
  2. The NSSE 2017 sampling frame consists of first-year and senior undergraduates. Data were provided by participating institutions.
  3. U.S. percentages are based on data from the 2015 IPEDS Institutional Characteristics and Enrollment data. Includes all class years.

Table 6

Additional Characteristics of NSSE 2017 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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