Director’s Message

NSSE Co-Directors' Message: Enhancing Attention to Equity

Jillian Kinzie, Ph.D., and Cindy Ann Kilgo, Ph.D.

We are excited to begin what we hope is a short tenure as Interim Co-Directors of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)!  While “interim” certainly conveys our provisional status, we are very much envisioning some important changes to aspects of NSSE and are looking forward to being the bridge to NSSE’s next full-time Director. We will do everything we can to sustain the project, enhance our work, and ensure NSSE is well-positioned to attract new leadership.

Toward this end, we’re pleased to introduce this third installment of NSSE’s Annual Results, Engagement Insights: Survey Findings on the Quality of Undergraduate Education which focuses on the critically important topic of equity in assessment. To be sure, it is our core goal to enhance attention to equity in NSSE survey design, administration, analysis, reporting and research.

These issues represent a vital dimension of NSSE’s future and to assuring the value of the project to assessing quality in undergraduate education.

Among the many findings that have emerged from NSSE, one of the most enduring is the variation that exists within institutions. Meaning that engagement results of students attending the same institution differ from each other much more than the average score of students at other institutions. This emphasizes the need for institutions to look within and consider educational quality and engagement for all students. Even more, institutions that seem reasonably similar—in size, context, student body demographics, programs, and so on—nevertheless are quite different when it comes to engagement among some student populations. In thinking about this more deeply, such variation is not as surprising as one might assume.  As the results featured in this final Annual Results 2021 story make plain, one of the most important variations in student engagement is among student populations.

Where NSSE is Headed

As we strike into NSSE’s third decade and prepare for NSSE’s next Director, we plan to actively engage in our goal of enhancing attention to equity. Below are few examples of how we have started to lean into this focus are present within this third installment of Annual Results:

Inclusive Language to Document Student Identities.

We are evolving toward student identity language that is more equitable and precise. For example, the introductory story uses specific age ranges rather than the common but problematic labels of “traditional” or “non-traditional.” In addition, we note that while gender identity beyond the binary is not fully captured in NSSE’s demographic question and in many student information systems, we encourage institutions to add information from their student records to the NSSE population file when possible to be more gender inclusive.

Survey Questions that Affirm Students’ Identities.

We emphasize survey questions that not only capture students’ identities accurately, but also affirm their existence. You can see this in our change to the disability question, which allows students more expansive options to capture their identity. We are also aware of the limitations of our current gender identity question and are considering the use of ‘Latinx’ in future survey development.

Unmasking Group Differences through Disaggregation of Data.

As noted in our report, we are considering the groups featured in comparisons and aim to disaggregate as much as possible to not mask inequities or exclude specific groups. One example of this is moving away from comparing Students of Color (as an aggregated group) to white students. Another instance is the approach of centering, or focusing, on a specific population in analyses, as we do with the exploration of the educational experiences of students who report having multiple disabilities or conditions.

Critical Quantitative Methodologies.

We are moving towards the use of critical quantitative methodologies. These methodologies center the experiences of minoritized student populations and ultimately allow colleges and universities better utility of their data in serving underserved populations at their institutions.

These issues represent a vital dimension of NSSE’s future and to assuring the value of the project to assessing quality in undergraduate education. Other matters, such as improving interactive reporting and greater data visualization are also on the agenda, but nothing is more important than the equitable representation of students’ experience.

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: