WSU News

Student responses help improve undergraduate education

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University takes seriously its mission to deliver the best possible education. It is asking 11,560 of its undergraduates, starting Feb. 7, to watch for and respond to an online questionnaire that rates their satisfaction in a number of academics-related areas.
The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is an instrument measuring responses from 751 colleges in the U.S. and Canada of more than 537,000 students to evaluate their experiences.
Successful programs inspired by results
WSU has participated every two years starting in 2000 and has used results to make changes to better undergraduate education.
“The quality and depth of information and statistical data that we get back from student responses to NSSE is extremely helpful,” said Mary F. Wack, WSU vice provost for undergraduate education. “NSSE is a key instrument that tells the institution what is working well and what needs to be improved. It also helps us to benchmark our effective education practices against those at other universities.”
For example, as a result of confidential student responses to NSSE in recent years, the Pullman campus began two arguably successful programs for first-year students “to facilitate premier experiences:” the Freshman Focus living-learning community where students who live together in residence halls sign up for general education courses together and the Common Reading Program, which promotes readings from, and lessons about topics in, the same book across many disciplines. 
Pullman also more fully developed its Undergraduate Research Program to create more opportunities for mentored undergraduate research, scholarship and creative activities.
WSU Online courses have added virtual mentors to help build a sense of community in its classes. WSU Vancouver is increasingly emphasizing a “convenient, one-stop approach to student support services” and is expanding research opportunities for students, as well.
All freshmen, seniors asked to participate
The biggest change from previous NSSE years is that, instead of polling random samplings from freshman and senior classes, this spring all freshmen and seniors will be invited via their WSU email addresses to participate. If all respond, that would be approximately 8,500 students from Pullman, 840 from WSU Online, 470 from WSU Spokane, 550 from WSU Tri-Cities and 1,200 from WSU Vancouver, for a total of 11,560 students.
The initial emailing will be sent from NSSE with a personal message to students from WSU President Elson S. Floyd. Students who don’t respond to that email by going to the NSSE website for the survey will receive four more emailed invitations to participate, said Fran Hermanson, interim director of WSU Institutional Research, which coordinates NSSE for WSU and evaluates the results. The dates of the followups will be Feb. 22 and March 1, 8 and 20.
In 2010, about 25 percent of the students asked did complete the questionnaire, she said: “We hope that even more students will participate this year, from all across the institution, to give us an even broader scope of opinions.”
Prizes offered to students
NSSE questions might include: “How often have you made a class presentation?” “How much has your coursework emphasized synthesizing and organizing ideas, information or experiences into new, more complex interpretations and relationships?” and “During the current school year, about how much reading and writing have you done?”

In appreciation for participating, Hermanson said she will enter all students who complete the survey by Feb. 21 into a drawing for these prizes at their respective home campuses:
• WSU Pullman students: one of 10 $100 gift cards.
• WSU Online students: one of five $100 gift cards.
• WSU Tri-Cities students: one $100 gift card.
• WSU Spokane students: one $100 gift card.
• WSU Vancouver students: one of more than 20 Microsoft software items ranging from $50-$150 in value, including various XBOX 360 games, Office for both PCs and MACs, and games for Windows.

‘Build a better university’
More important than gift cards and software, Wack emphasized, the NSSE is a way for all freshmen and seniors to make a difference for the future of WSU and the educational experience of every undergraduate.
“Our ads and flyers encouraging participation say, ‘Rate your WSU experience, build a better university’ by responding to NSSE,” said Wack. “That’s really what NSSE is all about.”
Wack and Hermanson hope that faculty members and administrators will recognize the importance of the survey and encourage their freshmen and seniors to participate voluntarily. The URL for the survey will be included in the emails sent to invited students.