Where Has the Time Gone? NSSE Celebrates 20 Years of Insights about College Quality

Where Has the Time Gone? NSSE Celebrates 20 Years of Insights about College Quality

Jillian Kinzie, Bob Gonyea, & Alex McCormick—In 2020 the National Survey of Student Engagement enters its third decade assessing the quality of undergraduate learning and success. In 20 years, the student engagement movement has surely changed our notions of quality in higher education. Most institutions now value a culture of evidence, promote deep approaches to learning, develop high-impact practices, and track engagement indicators. Our session presented at the Assessment Institute in Indianapolis (October 2019) reviewed the most important findings about student engagement in the past two decades, and considered with participants what engagement will look like in the next decade. What is next for assessing quality in undergraduate education and collecting evidence for improvement?

Launched in 2000, NSSE was established to serve two related objectives: (a) Enrich the discourse about college quality by assessing students’ exposure to and participation in empirically supported effective educational practices, and (b) provide institutions with valid, reliable, diagnostic information to inform improvement.


  • NSSE invites two million students to complete the questionnaire annually.
  • Since 2013, we have conducted over 40 experiments to improve the survey or response rates.
  • About 9 in 10 institutions that administer NSSE do so on a regular basis.

Selected Findings

  • Disposition to (dis)engagement is not destiny.
  • Engagement varies considerably by academic major.
  • Institutions of the same size can show large differences in average levels of engagement.
  • Most of the variability in the student experience occurs between students, not between institutions. Simply examining engagement of the “average student” overlooks this important internal variability.
  • Educationally effective institutions exhibit an ethic of “positive restlessness.”
  • Results show that institutions can and do improve student engagement over time.
  • At the institution level, student engagement correlates with retention and graduate rates.

More details and results are in the presentation. To view all NSSE publications and presentations, visit nsse.indiana.edu/links/pubs.

Stay tuned for more events and activities related to NSSE’s 20th!