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Lessons from the Field: Moving from Data to Action


National Survey of Student Engagement


From its launch more than a decade ago, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) was more than just a new survey. NSSE represented a campaign to focus the attention of higher education leaders, faculty, staff, policy makers, news media, and the general public on a number of relatively clear and well understood characteristics of effective environments for teaching and learning. The best way to accomplish this, the reasoning went, was simple enough: treat students as reliable informants on their own experience. Ask them about their exposure to and participation in a range of educationally purposeful activities. NSSE’s emphasis on behavior, rather than values or satisfaction, offered educators a valuable tool to assess the quality of undergraduate education, and to do so in a way that would focus attention on opportunities for improvement. And improvement is what it’s really all about. NSSE provides participating institutions with diagnostic, actionable information that can catalyze vital, sometimes challenging conversations about the quality of undergraduate education on a given campus. How closely does the experience of our students align with our assumptions, assertions, and aspirations? What standard of performance should we strive for, and how will we know when we achieve it? Who are our least engaged students, and how can we improve their experience? What can administrative offices, academic units, and student affairs departments do to promote effective educational practices and a climate that supports student success? Just as NSSE is more than a survey, using NSSE is more than simply participating in the survey administration. For campuses that truly “use” NSSE, the receipt of detailed reports and student data files does not represent the conclusion of a process. Rather, it signals the transition from one phase to the next. After data collection has concluded, the real work begins: making meaning from the results, identifying priorities for action, formulating concrete plans for improvement, and implementing those plans. Each of these steps is arguably more challenging than the one before, but all are necessary for an institution to take full advantage of what NSSE provides. This report provides rich examples of what it truly means to use NSSE.