Table 1. Excerpt from NSSE HLC Accreditation Toolkit: NSSE Items Mapped to HLC Criteria 

Equity Emphasis in Accreditation 

An important development in accreditation criteria lies in its expanded focus on equity andinclusion at the institution level and throughout the standards. While the six major accreditors have diversity and equity metrics in their standards, several have expanded this emphasis. For example, one of five guiding principles across all seven Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) standards is “Reflection on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” One goal of this reflection is to address disparate impacts by student populations if discoveredIn another explicit example, WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) states that institutions should ensure approaches to student support “promotes the success of all students, and makes explicit its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.” The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) specifies in Standard 8.1 (Student achievement), “that institutions will disaggregate graduation rate data by gender, ethnic, socioeconomic…” to guide strategies for improvement  

NSSE results can provide evidence for these expectations for equity and inclusion in accreditation. Many student engagement items map directly to educational goals for diverse learning experiences, including the Discussions with Diverse Others Engagement Indicator, while other items assess a supportive environment, such as, the institution encourages “contact among students from different backgrounds (social, racial/ethnic, religious, etc.)” and gains items including, understanding people of other backgrounds (economic, racial/ethnic, political, religious, nationality, etc.) that could offer evidence of equitable support or suggest areas for improvement. Western Illinois University, for example, featured 3 years of NSSE data in their Higher Learning Commission (HLCAssurance Argument report for Core Component 3.B.3The education offered by the institution recognizes human and cultural diversity and provides studentsskills to live and work in a multicultural world.” Western Illinois University’s consistent mean scoresfor items about “connecting your learning to societal problems or issues," “including diverse perspectives in course assignments,” and “understanding someone else’s views” are offered as evidence that students perceive their education supports engaging and developing understanding of human and culture diversity.  

Even more, data from NSSE’s Inclusiveness & Engagement with Cultural Diversity Topical Module provides evidence of students’ exposure to inclusive teaching practices and intercultural learning; perceptions of institutional values and commitment regarding diversity; and participation in diversity-related programming and coursework. These measures offer deeper indicators of environments, processes, and activities that reflect the engagement and validation of cultural diversity and promote greater understanding of societal differences.  

Accreditation expectations associated with attending todisparate impacts by student populations and disaggregation by student identities to address gaps in student outcomes, can be informed by student engagement results. NSSE’s student-level data files and expanded student identity questions offer new opportunities to conduct more intersectional and comprehensive disaggregation, and to examine equity in students’ exposure to effective educational practices and in dimensions of belonging andsatisfaction. NSSE data provide an opportunity to study and ensure that students from racially marginalized populations have access to culturally-specific programs and resources that will support them in their postsecondary success. More granular analyses by student identities can help refine intervention and improvement initiatives.  

Incorporating NSSE into accreditation elevates the value of student voice – students’ perceptions of quality teaching, support for learning and their well-being, sense of belonging and satisfaction – in the assessment and improvement of educational quality.

Evidence of Engagement and Educational Quality  

Student engagement and institutional support for student learning continues to be a consistent and vital focus in accreditation. In the January 2021 revision of the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE) standards, the accreditor asks institutions to demonstrate their commitment to enhancing the student experience in Standards Five and Six, focused on teaching and learning and student services. In Standard Five: Students, the emphasis is on the role of student engagement through criteria highlighting the impact of quality student services and co-curricular experiences. This emphasis connects to several NSSE items, including students’ perceptions of support for “using learning support services," “providing opportunities to be involved socially," and “providing support for your overall well-being," and “time spent participating in a co-curricular activities," among others. At least 27 items on the NSSE core survey map to NECHE Standard Five.  

NSSE added items to represent effective teaching and learning in 2021 to reflect a more current emphasis on teaching clarity, explaining performance criteria, and aligning teaching to how students learn (see Table 2).  


 Table 2. NSSE’s Items Associated with Effective Teaching 

 5. During the current school year, to what extent have your instructors done the following?

a. Clearly explained course goals and requirements

b. Taught course sessions in an organized way

c. Used examples or illustrations to explain difficult points

d. Provided feedback on a draft or work in progress 

e. Provided prompt and detailed feedback on tests or completed assignments

f. Explained in advance the criteria for successfully completing your assignments

g. Reviewed and summarized key ideas or concepts

h. Taught in a way that aligns with how you prefer to learn

i. Enabled you to demonstrate your learning through quizzes, assignments, and other activities


These questions and the existing Effective Teaching Practices Engagement Indicator items represent aspects of teaching effectiveness that promote student comprehension and learning that are reflected in the teaching andlearning quality standards expected by all accreditors. For example, as documented in our Lessons from the Field stories, Youngstown State University used its NSSE results as evidence of the HLC Criterion 3. Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources, and Support." YSU’s NSSE data specific to learning strategies and effective teaching, in combination with data from other student surveys, to make the case for the creation of YSU’s Institute for Teaching and Learning after tracking downwards trends in measures for both first-year and senior students. Relevant results from YSU’s Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) revealed faculty reporting engagement in continuous improvement activities at lower rates than desired. As part of their institutional improvement activities, a team of YSU stakeholders visited academic departments to explore these trends in more detail and find out what faculty needed in terms of institutional support for effective teaching. Utilizing this faculty feedback, the Institute for Teaching and Learning was launched, bringing together their assessment of student learning and faculty development initiatives. Since the launch of the Institute and greater attention to faculty development, NSSE results are already showing improvements in some indicators that YSU believes point to the impact of some of the Institute’s programming and services.  

Final Words about NSSE and Accreditation 

NSSE results provide institutions with a steady, comparative measure of effective educational practices aligned with accreditation standards. These data also provide participating colleges and universities critical measures of equitable learning and with data that can be disaggregated to explore variation in quality by student population. In the wake of the Supreme Courts ban on race-conscious admissionit is ever more critical to measure and demonstrate institutions’ commitments to equitable access and outcomes for all students. Even more, incorporating NSSE into accreditation elevates the value of student voicestudents’ perceptions of quality teaching, support for learning and their well-being, sense of belonging and satisfaction – in the assessment and improvement of educational quality.  

Questions about Using NSSE in Accreditation?  

NSSE Staff and Research Analysts can provide counsel to colleges and universities about data disaggregation and for additional insights about how results can be applied to accreditation processes and in the presentation of evidence for accreditation standards. Please contact: Jillian Kinzie,