It has been over a year since we started our journey as Interim Co-Directors of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). We have been creating changes to aspects of NSSE that we hope will set the foundation for the future NSSE Director. Some of these changes are visible in our Annual Results, including updates to use more inclusive language and better study students holding minoritized identities. We view these changes and others we’ve worked on during our tenure in this interim role as important to NSSE’s future and to assuring the value of the project for assessing quality in undergraduate education.
NSSE and its affiliated projects do not exist to survey college students. Rather, we support evidence-informed improvement. We’re eager to learn more about how findings from NSSE are put to good use, in particular to enhance equity and inclusion in colleges and universities.
Toward this end, we are pleased to introduce NSSE’s 2022 Annual Results, Engagement Insights: Survey Findings on the Quality of Undergraduate Education.
The first installment focuses on trends in student engagement and time use from 2019 to 2022. Engagement in several areas dipped during the pandemic, and we explore if these shifts have rebounded. Among the many findings that have emerged from NSSE, an enduring finding is the rebound from the pandemic. While we noticed the influence of the pandemic in the previous year, we were excited to see engagement increase in 2022. For instance, collaborative learning, which had a noticeable dip in 2021, was on the rise in 2022. The emphasis on online learning became more prevalent as a result of the pandemic, with many institutions also providing co-curricular and beyond-the-classroom activities in an online format. We expect a continued emphasis on hybrid learning environments, which will inevitably shift the way engagement is perceived on campuses. Additionally, we anticipate continued diversification of student populations. These two anticipations lead us to deeply consider how engagement is defined and how students engage based on their identities and lived experiences.
The second installment—“Digging Deeper Into the Quality of High-Impact Practices”—features analysis from the first administration of the High-Impact Practices (HIP) Quality Topical Module to gain a more nuanced understanding of three selected HIPs: internships, service-learning, and research with faculty. For example, internships and field experiences, true to their intended purpose, are associated with positive perceptions of acquiring post-graduation job- or work-related skills and planning. They also substantially contributed to understanding concepts in courses or major, working effectively with people from different backgrounds, and solving real-world, complex problems. Participating in research projects with faculty was associated with high levels of challenge and substantial gains in applying theory to practice. These promising initial findings showcase the importance of “doing HIPs well” to achieve maximum benefit. We also explore some potential barriers to participation in HIPs and suggest some ways in which they might be mitigated.
Hot Topics in Higher Ed
Mental well-being, perceptions of affordability, and transferable skillsRead the story
The final installment highlights a few timely and important topics in higher education, including mental health and well-being, affordability issues, and transferable skill development. We explore results from a 2022 experimental set on mental wellness, examining some continuing effects of the pandemic and sources of mental health support, as well as some concerning patterns of exclusion and discrimination. We then turn to the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement (BCSSE) data to explore perceptions of cost and affordability, noting that economic stress does not look the same across all students and that a more nuanced understanding of these students is needed, especially by racial identity and first-generation status. Finally, the NSSE and Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) Topical Modules on Development of Transferable Skills illustrate one aspect of return on investment for students, investigating three areas of skill development: Speaking & Complex Discussions, Creativity & Problem Solving, and Complex Writing. Disciplinary differences and connections to other indicators of student engagement provide insight on areas of strength for institutions, along with some implications for practice to promote skill development in a wider variety of activities and experiences.
Following Up on Our Goals as Co-Directors
Emphasis on Equity and Inclusion
"NSSE remains dedicated to continuing the shift toward more emphasis on equity and inclusion as it relates to student engagement."
Photo courtesy of Boise State University
In the 2021 Annual Results Co-Directors message, we stated our goals to enhance attention to equity across several areas, including: inclusive language to document student identities, survey questions that affirm students’ identities, disaggregating data to unmask group differences, and using critical quantitative methodologies. We are excited to share some of the progress we have made toward these goals.
The NSSE Equity in Survey Design, Administration, Analysis, and Reporting (ESDAR) Work Group was created shortly after the 2021 Annual Results were released. This group has focused on the infusion and focus on equity across all dimensions of the NSSE project. The group consists of 12 people, chaired by Angie Miller and Cindy Ann Kilgo, including Allison BrckaLorenz, Jennifer Brooks, Ella Chamis, Steven Feldman, Bob Gonyea, Tien Ling Hu, Christen Priddie, Shimon Sarraf, Kevin Wenger, and Yihan Zhu. While all staff have been encouraged to engage with equity work in their various roles, this group in particular has accomplished a lot in our shared effort to NSSE’s turn toward a focus on equity and inclusion in student engagement.
NSSE has evolved with student identity language that is more equitable, precise, and affirming to students taking the survey. In November 2022, we announced several changes to the NSSE 2023 instrument. A few highlights include increasing the options for the gender identity and sexual orientation items, as well as allowing students to select all that apply; revising “Hispanic of Latina/o” to also include “Latine or Latinx”; and expanding the options for fraternity or sorority membership to include specific Greek councils. Our hope is that these revised items allow students to share their true identities and allow institutions to look more deeply into differences within groups in deciding how to best serve students. We also hope some of these additions lead institutions to consider reevaluating their student record data to more accurately depict students’ identities and experiences. While the questions mentioned here will be illustrated in the 2023 NSSE Annual Results, you will notice a continued effort to use inclusive language within the 2022 NSSE Annual Results (disaggregating when possible, centering and focusing on minoritized populations).
NSSE remains dedicated to continuing the shift toward more emphasis on equity and inclusion as it relates to student engagement. Moving forward, future webinars and blog posts on the work of ESDAR and NSSE will be available for institutions to participate. Finally, as co-directors, we rely on invaluable feedback from the field. We would love to hear from you. Please contact Jillian Kinzie (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Cindy Ann Kilgo (email@example.com) to provide input on our work toward NSSE’s future legacy.