PULLMAN, Wash. — What constitutes quality in the undergraduate experience? Collegiate rankings focus mostly on what students are like when they start college, as measured by entrance exam scores or high school class rank. Institutional resources — number of faculty members, library books and computer terminals — also are analyzed.

But what gets almost no attention is what matters most to student learning: how students apply their abilities in using the institution’s resources. The National Survey of Student Engagement, overseen by Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning, is designed to re-focus public discussion on what really matters to quality undergraduate education: what students do and what they say about their experience.

Randomly selected freshmen and seniors at Washington State University and more than 400 other colleges and universities across the nation will have the chance to share their views by completing The College Student Report.

WSU has opted for paper distribution of the survey. On Feb. 6, selected students were sent a letter and survey inviting them to participate and providing instructions for accessing the NSSE online survey. A personalized student identification code was provided, allowing each student to complete the survey just once.

After WSU’s spring break, all Pullman campus seniors in the Colleges of Liberal Arts, Business and Economics and the Honors College will also be asked to take the survey to allow for an examination of more detailed information about their engagement and learning in the programs of those units.  Accreditation teams and program reviewers increasingly seek such evidence of student engagement and learning.

The survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Questions focus on how and where students spend their time, the nature and quality of their interactions with faculty members and peers, and what they have gained from their classes and other aspects of their college experience. The survey serves as sort of an anonymous suggestion box that will get the attention of people who can make changes for the better. Information also will be shared with accrediting bodies, governmental agencies and prospective students.

This survey attempts to measure the extent to which universities use “good practices” that encourage learning. In the last few years, about 725 institutions have participated in the project. The results will allow WSU to compare teaching and learning effectiveness at WSU with national benchmarks for similar types of institutions.

The NSSE was developed by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to help colleges and universities improve undergraduate education. Pew is a philanthropic organization interested in college students and collegiate quality and is underwriting the project as a public service.

Additional information about the NSSE is available online at http://www.indiana.edu/~nsse/html/about.shtml