PULLMAN – Measuring student engagement is important for WSU, so the university is asking employees to encourage students to participate in a survey of engagement going on now.
For the past 10 years, WSU and universities nationwide have been trying to measure student engagement and its impact on academic performance, retention, teaching and satisfaction. Student engagement includes such things as student-faculty interaction, student-to-student interaction, diversity and participation in activities.
Accurately measuring engagement, however, is a challenge in that it requires the same trait being measured – student engagement or participation – over time. In 2008, only about 25 percent of the 4,000 randomly selected WSU students actually participated in an engagement survey.
WSU hopes to see that participation level increase dramatically and is asking faculty and staff to help.
2010 NSSE
The 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement – a biannual survey that includes about 600-775 U.S. colleges and universities and more than a million students – kicked off in February.
About 2,000 freshmen and 2,000 seniors from WSU’s four campuses are being invited to participate in the NSSE (pronounced nessie) survey.

“We want as many student respondents as we can get, so the results accurately represent WSU,” said Mary Wack, vice provost for undergraduate education. “A low response rate can lead to a skewed image.”
Far more women participated in the last NSSE survey, which is “always the way it is,” Wack said. In addition there was a “disproportionate participation by minority and underrepresented students.”
Why is it important to faculty and staff?
Broad participation in NSSE and the ensuing results are important to the WSU community in several respects.
First, it is a tool that growing numbers of prospective students and parents are using to help compare and choose colleges. NSSE provides information on student learning experiences, active learning experiences, institutional commitment to student learning and success, student interaction with campus faculty and staff, experiences with diverse groups of people and ideas, and overall student satisfaction. In short, that data translates into enrollment, the life blood of the university.
In a December 2009 article, USA Today noted that the NSSE can help college-bound students “evaluate whether a particular campus offers the kinds of experiences and opportunities that are known to benefit students.”
Second, the results are reviewed and shared by colleges and universities nationwide, which can influence the university’s overall reputation and standing. (For a list of institutions participating in the 2008 NSSE, click here.
Third, NSSE provides WSU with a broad spectrum of information on student perceptions, study habits and activities, which influence academic success.
Fourth, it helps measure WSU’s strengths and weaknesses, so leaders can target areas where improvements can be made.
Faculty, staff role
Because of NSSE’s importance, WSU employees are invited to take an active role in encouraging student participation.
“We’d like all faculty and staff to remind their students, interns or employees that if they receive an e-mail invitation from NSSE to please make sure to respond and participate,” said Wack.
Faculty can prompt students via lectures, PowerPoint presentations, e-mail or via the Angel system. Staff can encourage students who work in their departments on an individual basis, she said.
It’s important, not junk mail!
Because WSU students are randomly selected to participate in the NSSE survey, not all students are eligible.
Each selected student is invited to participate via e-mail. The risk is that students won’t recognize the sender’s e-mail address and delete the message as junk mail. Or, they’ll see it as just another survey and hit the delete button.
So, another way faculty and staff can help is to let their students know what the NSSE e-mail invitations look like, so they can recognize them. The e-mail messages contain the following wording:
From: Warwick M. Bayly and Michael J. Tate [mailto:nsse@nssesurvey.org]
Subject: “WSU wants your feedback!”
“People can tell their students, ‘If you see an e-mail with these markings, please follow the e-mail instructions and take the survey. It’s important,'” said Wack.
What does NSSE survey?
The survey, which includes about 60 questions, measures five major areas that are believed to have a major effect on student performance:
• Level of academic challenge
• Active and collaborative learning
• Student faculty interaction
• Enriching educational experience
• Supportive campus environment
“It provides a tremendous amount of information about how students are engaging or not engaging, and how we might improve,” said Wack.
Is the data significant?


When the NSSE first appeared in 2000, it was fairly controversial. Skeptics questioned “whether students talking about themselves was valid,” in terms of gauging the quality of a university, said Fran Hermanson, associate director of WSU’s Institutional Research.

In response, the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College, conducted a national longitudinal study to try to measure the correlation between teaching practices and institutional conditions (similar to those in the NSSE) on student success or outcomes.
In short, they found the correlation to be accurate. A similar study focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs is under way as well, via the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.
“For me it points out where we do and do not emphasize activities that lead to certain outcomes,” said Wack.
For example, the 2008 NSSE results show that WSU compares least favorably with its peers in the area of “completed foreign language coursework.” Among freshman, WSU was 8 percent below land grant peer universities and 12 percent below AAU public institutions. Among seniors, WSU was 20 percent below land grant peer universities and 24 percent below AAU public institutions.
That trend directly reflects the fact that WSU does not require foreign language courses to graduate. So, that will be an area of review and discussion by faculty and administrators in the future.
On the positive side, WSU freshmen and seniors showed comparative strengths in writing skills (1-9 percent above AAU and peer land-grant institutions), which is a reflection of WSU’s nationally recognized writing program. In addition, its freshmen were 10-11 percent above both AAU and land grant institutions in the area of “participation in learning communities.”
Hermanson attributed this trend primarily to WSU’s Common Reading program and the Freshman Focus program, which puts students with two to three similar courses into common living areas to encourage group interaction.
Comparative data like this, Wack said, allows the university to objectively identify areas that need attention, change or continued support.
“We need to make sure we maintain our support for efforts like the Writing Program, Common Reading and Freshman Focus,” she said.
Cost to participate
As with all services, participating in the NSSE has a price tag. The 2010 survey will cost WSU about $10,000.
Wack says it’s well worth the money.
“The NSSE questions probe the extent to which students encounter effective education practices,” she said. “If WSU tried to collect and analyze the same information as NSSE does, it would be far more costly than NSSE’s relatively modest price tag.
“The data gives us perspective on how we fare compared to AAU and land grant universities in fostering student engagement and learning,” Wack said. “The results will help us target scarce resources toward strategic actions.”
An article in the Jan. 6 issue of USA Today, titled “NSSE changes how colleges judge success, weakness,” noted:
“In the 10 years since it was first administered, NSSE has developed into something of a movement. Nearly 1,400 four-year colleges and universities have participated at least once, and about four out of five have done so multiple times. More than 2.4 million students have completed the survey, giving researchers a treasure-trove of data about how students spend their time in college. The survey also has provided a road map to help hundreds of campuses around the country pinpoint – and focus efforts on – both potential strengths and trouble spots.”
So, whether you are a faculty member with students by the scores or hundreds, or a staff member who has contact with interns or work study students, you are invited to alert them that if they see an e-mail from an address containing the acronym NSSE, to please take time to read it and participate.
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