NSSE Overview 2018

NSSE 2018 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 2018, including administration details, response rates, participating institutions, and respondent characteristics.

Survey Data and Methodology

Approximately 1.2 million first-year and senior students from 511 institutions (489 in the US, 16 in Canada, and 6 in other countries) were invited to participate in NSSE 2018. Of this population, 289,867 students responded to the survey. Less than half (46%) of these were first-year students and 54% 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 sample size based on total undergraduate enrollment. Census administration is available only via email recruitment, in which students get a survey invitation and up to four reminders by email. In 2018, all participating institutions opted for this method rather than the regular mail option, in which sampled students get up to three messages by post and up to two reminders by email.

Unless noted otherwise, the results presented below are from 491 institutions—476 in the US and 15 in Canada—that participated in NSSE 2018. Due to nonstandard details of their participation, 20 institutions are not represented. In these summary tables, as in each Institutional Report 2018, only data for census-administered and randomly sampled students are included.

U.S. Participating Institutions

NSSE 2018 U.S. respondents profiled here include 275,219 first-year (46%) and senior (54%) respondents from 476 institutions. NSSE 2018 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 2018 institutions was 30%. The highest response rate among U.S. institutions was 88%, and three out of five achieved a response rate of 25% or higher. Higher average response rates were observed for smaller institutions and for institutions offering incentives (Table 2).

Institutions had the option to use their learning management system or student portal to recruit students. In 2018, 91 U.S. institutions chose this option, and the average share of respondents who accessed the survey this way was 24%.

Table 1: Profile of NSSE 2018 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)27242928
Master's M: Master's Colleges and Universities (medium programs)1713107
Master's S: Master's Colleges and Universities (smaller programs)8843
Bac/A&S: Baccalaureate Colleges—Arts & Sciences Focus161584
Bac/Diverse: Baccalaureate Colleges—Diverse Fields111945
Undergraduate Enrollment
Fewer than 1,000122232
20,000 or more662535
New England7876
Mid East18181616
Great Lakes14151314
Rocky Mountains4365
Far West8101013
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 2018 U.S. Participation and Response Rates by Undergraduate Enrollment and Use of Incentives Institution Characteristics
Institution CharacteristicsNumber of InstitutionsAverage Institutional
Response Rate (%)
Undergraduate Enrollment
2,500 or fewer21935
2,501 to 4,99910928
5,000 to 9,9997425
10,000 or more7121
Use of Incentivesa
Offered incentives30333
No incentives17325
All Institutions47630
  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 2018, the most widely adopted was Academic Advising, closely followed by First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions (Table 4).


Selection of Additional Question Sets
Table 3: Summary of NSSE 2018 Participation in Additional Questions Sets
Number of InstitutionsPercentage of Institutions
One module only17434
Two modules20540
Consortium items only163
Consortium items plus one module5811
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 2018 Participation in Topical Modules
Topical ModuleNumber of InstitutionsPercentage of Institutions
Academic Advising16432
First-Year Experiences and Senior Transitions15831
Inclusiveness and Engagement with Cultural Diversity10320
Development of Transferable Skills469
Experiences with Writing459
Civic Engagement438
Global Learning306
Experiences with Information Literacy296
Learning with Technology245
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 2018 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 7,998 students (57% first-year, 43% senior) from 15 institutions in 4 provinces, including 6 institutions in Ontario; 4 in Alberta; 4 in British Columbia; and 1 from New Brunswick. Female students and full-time students accounted for about 71% and 85% of Canadian respondents, respectively. The average response rate for Canadian NSSE 2018 institutions was 37%, with the highest response rate being 72%. Nearly nine in ten achieved a response rate of 25% or higher.

About 24% of Canadian respondents were at least 24 years old. The majority of students providing ethnocultural information identified as Caucasian or White (69%), while 9% were multiracial, 5% Chinese, 3% South Asian, 3% Black, and less than 3% from each of nine other categories.

Table 5: Characteristics of NSSE 2018 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 alien45
Enrollment Status
Not full-time1016
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 2018 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 2016 IPEDS Institutional Characteristics and Enrollment data. Includes all class years.

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 higher61
Living on campusb40
Taking all classes online9
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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