The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

National Survey for Student Engagement to measure the quality of education at UMW and other colleges

4 min read

The National Survey for Student engagement is conducted every year and is given to first and fourth year students. | Christin Hume / Unsplash


Staff Writer & News Editor

The National Survey for Student Engagement measures the quality of university education by surveying freshman and fourth-year seniors. UMW participates in the survey every even year. 

“As the name suggests, these surveys are done at universities all over the U.S.,” said Debra Schleef, associate provost for institutional analysis and effectiveness and professor of sociology. “The whole point is to understand the student experience from beginning to end at UMW. It’s very important to have as high a response rate as possible so that as many students as possible can participate and have a say in how we understand the student experience and what policies we engage in to improve that experience.”

Schleef explained that UMW analyzes its survey responses and compares them to responses from other schools.

“NSSE sends us a variety of reports (with the comparisons to other schools) and the raw data as well, so we can do our own analyses,” she said. “It is the main way that we can benchmark our activities related to student engagement to other schools. We also compare our own data across the years for the same reason – what areas are we strong in? In what areas could we be better? Are certain elements improving over time or not?”

The survey is designed to compare the first and fourth year students to see how things change and how they respond differently. The goal is to see how engaged students are with the community. Results are released yearly in November

“We examine how often students engage in “high impact practices” such as research with a professor, internships, study abroad and completing community service or a culminating project,” said Schleef. “Again, are graduating students likely to say they have had those experiences?”

The survey covers many topics, such as “student learning strategies, different types of learning (such as collaborative learning), diversity, student-faculty interaction, relationships with peers, different supports in the university environment and academic challenges,” said Schleef. “The NSSE also asks about how students use their time – for studying, for outside work, for commuting, caring for family members, etc.”

The data are used to make real changes to campus life. For instance, in previous years, the survey has led to the changing of certain general education requirements.

“The provost’s office (which is where I work) frequently looks at all manner of data, and each time the NSSE is done I present that data to the provost council and other stakeholders,” said Schleef. “So, the NSSE results are looked at widely by the university administration and student-focused offices.”

Schleef utilizes these data to make UMW-specific reports. 

“I created a report for academic advising that looked at the quality of advising (from 2012 to 2018),” said Schleef. “I also prepared a report on some of the student affairs indicators for the Student Affairs office so that they could see how effective some of their work has been.”

The more recent changes made from this survey have involved diversity and inclusion.

“Recently we’ve been using the data to help us augment university collected data on diversity and inclusion,” said Schleef. “For example, I presented some data on the relationship between student race/ethnicity and incidences of high impact practices (both what students said they wanted to do and what they did) to the University Board of Visitors, which led to some suggestions on how we might improve access to these practices for underrepresented students.”

Aishah Wahedi, a senior biology major, thinks that the surveys are beneficial to the university.

“As a student, I do appreciate taking these surveys, and I take them very seriously,” said Wahedi. “I would like to see them more often.” 

Some other students value the importance of the NSSE.

“I honestly don’t like taking surveys; however, this survey was one of my favorite surveys I have taken,” said Aziza Alikhail, senior biomedical sciences major. “It had all those questions that I really needed to know more about and the things I felt like needed to change. This survey helps the upcoming students who will be attending UMW on what to expect and decide if this is the place where they want to exceed their education.”

Students who complete the survey by March 28 are randomly entered to win one of twenty $25 gift certificates to the bookstore.

“I really like how it has a little treat to it, such as winning a gift card, because most of the time people tend to not take surveys and feel that it is a waste of time, which I really like the idea behind providing a little treat,” said Alikhail.