Engagement Indicators

Engagement Indicators

To represent the multi-dimensional nature of student engagement at national, sector, institutional, and intra-institutional levels, NSSE developed ten Engagement Indicators organized within four engagement themes as shown below.
NSSE Engagement Indicators by Theme
ThemeEngagement Indicators

Academic Challenge

Higher-Order Learning

Reflective & Integrative Learning

Learning Strategies

Quantitative Reasoning

Learning with Peers

Collaborative Learning

Discussions with Diverse Others

Experiences with Faculty

Student-Faculty Interaction

Effective Teaching Practices

Campus Environment

Quality of Interactions

Supportive Environment

Descriptions and component items of all Engagement Indicators are below, or download this one page handout for easy reference.

Each Engagement Indicator provides valuable information about a distinct aspect of student engagement by summarizing students' responses to a set of related survey questions. Detailed descriptions of each indicator and component items are below.

Development of the Engagement Indicators

Engagement Indicators (EIs) were created with a blend of theory and empirical analysis. Items were rigorously tested using both quantitative and qualitative methods during a multi-year development process. This process involved conducting focus groups and cognitive interviews with students and two years of pilot testing and analysis. Various statistical procedures were used to assess the validity and reliability of the EIs including principal components analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, reliability analysis, generalizability theory, and item response theory.

Evidence of construct validity for the EI's was provided by factor analysis. We examined EI factor structures through exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, concluding that they have sufficiently strong construct validity evidence to support their use for college and university assessment efforts.

Engagement Indicator reliabilities (Cronbach's alpha) and item correlations are reported in the Psychometric Portfolio.

Scoring the Engagement Indicators

To facilitate comparisons over time, as well as between groups of students within or between institutions, each Engagement Indicator is expressed on a 60-point scale. Computing Engagement Indicator scores involves three steps.

  1. All items that contribute to an Engagement Indicator are converted to a 60-point scale. For example, items with four response options (e.g., never, sometimes, often, and very often) are recoded with values of 0, 20, 40, or 60. Thus an EI score of zero means that a student chose the lowest response option for every item in that indicator, while a score of 60 means that a student chose the highest response to every item.
  2. Recoded values for each component item are averaged together. For Engagement Indicators with five or more items (Reflective & Integrative Learning, Effective Teaching Practices, Quality of Interactions, and Supportive Environment) a mean was calculated for each student who answered all items or all but one of the items in the Engagement Indicator. For instance, a student must have answered at least four of the five Effective Teaching Practices items in order to receive an Effective Teaching Practices score. In contrast, a student must answer all three Quantitative Reasoning items in order to receive a Quantitative Reasoning score.
  3. Institutional EI scores are the weighted averages of the student-level scores for each class level. (More information about weighting.)

Although EI scores are included in each institution's NSSE data file, SPSS syntax to compute them on your own is available. The syntax may also help you understand how EI scores are calculated.

Interpreting Results

When interpreting Engagement Indicator results, keep in mind that individual student scores vary much more within institutions than do average scores between institutions. For example, while the average scores for "Top 10%" institutions demonstrate, in a relative sense, what high levels of engagement look like, results consistently show that a large portion of students at high-performing institutions are no more engaged than the typical student at all NSSE institutions (e.g., see the 2008 Annual Results). Likewise, institutions with lower average scores may have some students who are more engaged than the typical student at top-scoring institutions.

Evidence-Based Improvement in Higher Education

Center for Postsecondary Research
Indiana University
School of Education
201 N. Rose Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405-1006
Phone: 812.856.5824
Email: