NSSE Overview

NSSE 2021 Overview

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE, pronounced “nessie”) collects information from first-year and senior students about the characteristics and quality of their undergraduate experience. Since the inception of the survey, nearly 1,700 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. This document provides an overview of NSSE 2021, including administration details, response rates, participating institutions, and respondent characteristics.

The Pandemic Continues

The coronavirus pandemic continued to have a profound impact on higher education and its students this past year, demanding rapid adaptation to unusual circumstances like shifting academic calendars and constantly changing health and safety requirements. NSSE adapted by adding a pandemic-specific question, and introduced two salient modules, Coping with COVID (created specifically for the 2021 administration) and Experiences with Online Learning.

Recognizing these difficult and changing circumstances, NSSE asked students about the extent faculty and staff had done a good job helping them adapt to pandemic-induced changes. Hearteningly, nearly 3 out of 4 respondents (73%) said faculty and staff had helped them substantially (“quite a bit” or “very much”) in this regard. However, some student groups reported slightly less support than their peers, such as those studying mostly online (71%), those at a doctoral degree-granting institution (71%), and Black or African-American students (72%).

In addition, student responses to the NSSE item about course type demonstrates a substantial shift to mostly remote instruction, with over 60% of all students reporting this course modality.

Canadian Respondent Profile

Canadian respondents profiled here include 1,977 students (63% first-year, 37% senior) from 5 institutions in 3 provinces, including 2 institutions in Ontario; 2 in Alberta; and 1 in British Columbia. Female students and full-time students accounted for about 65% and 86% of Canadian respondents, respectively. The average response rate for Canadian NSSE 2021 institutions was 44%, with the highest response rate being 64%. All institutions achieved a response rate of 25% or higher. About 25% of Canadian respondents were at least 24 years old. The majority of students providing ethnocultural information identified as Caucasian or White (60%), while 10% were multiracial, 6% South Asian, 5% Black, 4% Chinese, and less than 4% from each of nine other categories.

Looking for a bit of NSSE history?

See all historical NSSE Overviews dating back to 2000 in PDF format.

Evidence-Based Improvement in Higher Education

Center for Postsecondary Research
Indiana University School of Education
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