A Message from the Director
When the National Survey of Student Engagement launched in 2000, it represented a bold experiment. One can think of that experiment as seeking to answer two questions:
- If we reframe the discourse about college quality away from reputation and resources to focus on activities and practices that truly matter to student learning and development, will anyone pay attention?
- If colleges and universities can have valid, reliable data about how much their students engage in those activities and practices, will they use the information to guide improvement?
In that first year, 276 bachelor’s degree-granting colleges and universities in 47 states and the District of Columbia signed on. In 2004 the project expanded to include Canadian higher education, starting with 11 institutions in four provinces. By its 20th year, more than 1,600 colleges and universities in the US and Canada had implemented the survey. What’s more, seven out of eight institutions from the inaugural year continue to participate, having done so at least once in the last five years. The high rate of repeat participation demonstrates both continued interest in student engagement and the value of tracking it over time.
NSSE has also attracted considerable interest beyond North America, with participation by institutions from 11 other countries as well as authorized countrywide adaptations operating in Chile, China, Indonesia, Ireland, Korea, South Africa, and the United Kingdom plus a large number of single-institution adaptations in other countries. From this evidence, we can confidently answer the first question in the affirmative. Student engagement is an idea that resonates with a wide range of actors with a stake in the quality of undergraduate education, including faculty members, student affairs professionals, deans, presidents and provosts, board members, and the general public. Its resonance is attributable in part to the deep research foundation that undergirds it, and also to a palpable hunger for quality assessments that attend meaningfully to the student experience in ways that reputation, student satisfaction, or research prowess do not.
Given the embrace of student engagement as a window on the quality of undergraduate education, the second question is even more important—will colleges and universities use student engagement information to guide improvement? It’s easy for us to track institutional participation in the project, but somewhat more complicated to know how institutions use their results to inform practice. Nevertheless, our outreach to participating institutions over the years has resulted in an impressive array of examples of what institutions do in response to results from NSSE and its companion surveys—the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement and the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement. This report includes examples from four institutions: Eastern Connecticut State University, Marian University, Nevada State College, and The University of Tampa. Many more are documented in a searchable database on the NSSE website and in our Lessons from the Field series (see links below). These examples offer an unequivocal “yes” in response to the second question posed above.
The NSSE experiment would never have gotten off the ground without the generous support of The Pew Charitable Trusts, which underwrote the project’s development. That support reflected the vision and creative energy of Russ Edgerton, whose leadership of Pew’s higher education program produced an impressive array of interventions to promote and support student learning in higher education.
What began as a bold experiment is now part of the higher education landscape, and is marked by ongoing innovation. This report continues NSSE’s tradition of annual publications documenting important new findings related to student engagement and success. Read on to learn about long-term trends in student engagement, the vital role that high-quality advising plays in promoting engagement, and how engagement relates to student persistence.
Alexander C. McCormick, Ph.D.