NSSE Update in 2013

Information About the 2013 Update

Launched in 2013, the updated NSSE questionnaire is built upon years of evidence-based testing, institutional feedback and recent advances in educational and survey research. While item changes range from minimal adjustments to entirely new content, the updated instrument maintains NSSE’s signature focus on diagnostic and actionable information related to effective educational practice.

The questionnaire was updated with four goals in mind:

  • Develop new measures related to effective teaching and learning;
  • Refine existing measures and scales;
  • Improve the clarity and applicability of survey language; and
  • Update terminology to reflect current educational contexts.

Consequently, the Institutional Report package was thoroughly redesigned to accompany the updated questionnaire. With extensive use of color and graphics, the reports are designed to be shared widely.

Engagement Indicators

Sets of new, continuing, and updated items have been rigorously tested, and are grouped within several Engagement Indicators. These indicators fit within four engagement themes adapted from the Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice, as follows:

  • Academic Challenge – Including Higher-Order Learning, Reflective & Integrative Learning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Learning Strategies
  • Learning with Peers – Including Collaborative Learning and Discussions with Diverse Others
  • Experiences with Faculty – Including Student-Faculty Interaction and Effective Teaching Practices
  • Campus Environment – Including Quality of Interactions and Supportive Environment

High-Impact Practices

High-Impact Practices are special undergraduate opportunities such as service-learning, study abroad, research with faculty, and internships that have substantial positive effects on student learning and retention.

How Has the Survey Changed?

distribution of item changes. New: 23%, No change 22%, Rewritten (major): 27%, Modified wording (minor): 28%

Compared to NSSE 2012, about a quarter of NSSE questions are new, and nearly the same proportion unchanged. Of the half that have been changed, an equal number were modified in major or minor ways. Of course, some items were deleted to keep the overall length of the survey about the same.


NSSE 2.0 Timeline

Mar 2011First pilot survey tested
Apr 2011Focus groups conducted
May 2011AIR Round Table and Special Interest Group Sessions
Dec 2011Report of 2011 pilot released
Feb 2012Second pilot administration begins
Jun 2012Updated survey released on June 4, 2012
Presentations at AIR Forum
Sep 2012Registration closes for NSSE 2013
Summer 2013Revised reports finalized
Sep 2013NSSE 2013 Institutional Report released, featuring redesigned reports.

Modules: Additional Question Sets

New customization options include topical modules, or short sets of questions, on focused areas such as academic advising, civic engagement, experiences with diversity, writing, and technology. Additional modules will be developed over time.

How Do the Changes Affect Comparisons with Prior-Year Results?

Even the best surveys must be periodically revised and updated, affecting multi-year analyses such as trend studies or pre-post designs. Although many items remain unchanged, others have been modified and a few have been dropped, limiting longitudinal comparability of individual questions and historical benchmarks.

While some new results are not directly comparable to past results, institutions can still evaluate longitudinal questions. For instance, if previous comparison group results indicate above average performance in a particular area, institutions can still gauge whether they outperform the same or a similar comparison group.

We are confident that these updates enhance NSSE's value to institutions. NSSE will continue to provide useful resources and work with participating institutions to ensure maximum benefit from survey participation.

How are Institutions Transitioning to the Updated NSSE?

Early lessons about using results from the updated survey indicate that redesigned reports, including the Snapshot, are easy to interpret and share, the new Engagement Indicators provide concise summary measures, and results offer institutions new insights into effective practice and opportunities for improvement. A brief summary highlighting how four institutions used results from the updated survey is described in Lessons from the Field: Transitioning to the Updated NSSE.

Why Update NSSE?

After a decade in the field, we know more about what matters to student success, institutional improvement efforts, and properties of the NSSE survey itself. Moreover, as higher education faces increasing demands for assessment data, NSSE must stay relevant to current issues and concerns.

Long-time NSSE participants may recall that NSSE was updated regularly in the early years. Starting in 2005, however, we kept the survey largely unchanged as a practical matter for institutions to facilitate year-to-year comparisons. Our intention has been to roll out major updates at longer-term intervals, as we did in 2013. This approach balances the need of institutions to have year-to-year comparisons with NSSE’s need to respond periodically to changes in the higher education landscape, informed by a methodical research and development process.

Higher education is constantly changing, and it is important for NSSE to stay relevant to the most salient issues and priorities of institutional assessment and research.

Development of the Updated Survey

The multi-year process of planning and testing was completed in 2013. This process was scholarly, rigorous, and collaborative, and involved:

  • Consulting with campus users and a variety of field experts
  • Gathering ideas and feedback from other interested partners
  • Examining NSSE’s psychometric properties, including six years of experimental items
  • Conducting cognitive interviews and focus groups with students
  • Pilot testing in 2011 and 2012.
  • The updated NSSE instrument was unveiled at the AIR Forum June 4, 2012


To learn more, view the archived Webinar
"A Conversation With the Director: If It Isn't Broken, Make It Better"
recorded in September, 2014.

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