General Information about NSSE

What is NSSE?

NSSE stands for the National Survey of Student Engagement and is pronounced “Nessie”. It is widely recognized as a pre-eminent tool for providing benchmarks to assess the effectiveness of undergraduate education and to inform strategic planning decisions.

NSSE is conducted by the Indiana University Survey Research Centre on behalf of the NSSE Institute. Since its first administration in 2000, more than 1,600 North American universities and colleges have participated in NSSE. In 2017, 723 institutions are registered to participate in the survey, 72 of them in Canada. This roughly equates to more than 400,000 students.

The survey is designed to measure the amount of time and effort students put into their studies and other educationally purposeful activities, and the extent to which the university facilitates such involvement. Survey items represent empirically confirmed "good practices" in undergraduate education. These practices reflect behaviours by students and institutions that are associated with effective learning.

The NSSE Institute provides each participating institution with data and a number of reports that compare responses in that institution with those of groups in other institutions. Each November, the Institute also publishes an annual report discussing trends in student engagement.

NSSE also published best practice articles capturing the successes from the previous administration of the survey. York was profiled in NSSE’s “Lessons from the Field” compilation of best practices in October and there are more articles scheduled. Click here

How was NSSE developed

NSSE grew out of a large body of research on student learning which concluded that students who are actively involved in academic and co-curricular activities gain more from their university experience than students who are not as involved.

It was designed in 1998 by a team led by Peter Ewell of The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). The majority of items were modified from the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) and the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). NSSE was first conducted in 2000 with 63,000 students from 276 institutions.

All Ontario universities participate on a three-year cycle. In 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014 all Ontario universities participated in NSSE as part of the accountability framework being developed by the provincial government. York’s next scheduled participation is February 6 to March 31, 2017.

Who completes the survey?

At York, the survey will be administered to all students in the first year (study level 1) of an undergraduate degree and the final graduating year of a four-year honours undergraduate degree, excluding law and BEd programs. To confirm Eligibility, check the chart.

What can I do if I’m not eligible to complete the survey?

If you’re not in study level 1 or in your final year of your degree (e.g. expected to complete all your coursework this Winter), and would like to provide feedback about the ways in which you’ve engaged with your program and services at York, we're working on an option for you. Please check this site after February 6 for details.

What kind of data does NSSE collect?

NSSE collects information about behaviours and experiences of undergraduates in their first study year and those in the final study year of a four-year program. It measures their level of engagement in programs and services that are available for their learning and personal development.

What kind of data does York receive?

York gets response data from the NSSE survey that enables it to analyze engagement characteristics of groups of students at the institutional, Faculty and even program level. Each level of the institution can then learn how well it is facilitating student engagement and what it needs to improve.

Is the data private?

The survey is confidential but it is not anonymous. You can read our privacy statement at http://nsse.info.yorku.ca/privacy

What benchmarks does NSSE use?

As well as providing responses to individual questions, NSSE provides an overview in which it groups answers to questions into four themes and ten indicators:

Theme Indicators
Academic Challenge
  • Higher-order learning
  • Reflective and integrative learning
  • Learning strategies
  • Quantitative reasoning
Learning with Peers
  • Collaborative learning
  • Discussion with diverse others
Experiences with Faculty
  • Student-faculty interactions
  • Effective teaching practices
Campus Environment
  • Quality of Interactions
  • Supportive Environment

NSSE also measures and compares participation in six “High Impact Practices” or HIPs.

High Impact Practices
  • Learning Community
  • Service Learning
  • Research with faculty member
  • Experiential learning
  • Study abroad
  • Culminating senior experience

What exactly is student engagement?

NSSE defines engagement as:

  • The amount of time and effort students put into their studies and other purposeful activities.
  • How an institution uses its resources and organizes its curriculum to get students involved in educationally meaningful activities.

Why is student engagement important?

Students who are actively engaged in academic and co-curricular activities gain more from their university experience and are more likely to persist in their studies than students who are not as involved.

“Student engagement – a range of behaviours that institutions can influence with teaching practices and programmatic interventions such as first-year seminars, service-learning courses and learning communities – positively affects grades in both the first and last year of college as well as persistence to the second year at the same institution, even after controlling for a host of pre-college characteristics and other variables linked with these outcomes, such as merit aid and parental education."
-- Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence. Kuh et al (2008)

How is the NSSE survey useful?

The NSSE survey instrument can be useful in several ways.

  • Institutional improvement: To identify areas where York can enhance students’ educational experiences and student learning.
  • Benchmarking: To establish how York compares with groups of peer institutions.
  • Accountability: To document and improve institutional effectiveness over time.

The results of the survey can help York with:

  • evaluating effectiveness of interventions to improve the student experience;
  • institutional analysis;
  • improving the university experience for undergraduate students;
  • helping York understand what it does well and what it could improve relative to other universities; and
  • strategic planning.

Why NSSE is important to York

Why is NSSE important to York University?

Good data is critical to making evidence-based decisions. NSSE data helps York improve the student learning experience.

To measure student engagement
York’s Institutional Integrated Resource Plan (IIRP) includes a commitment to innovative pedagogies, interdisciplinarity and student engagement in learning in its statement of values and principles:

To improve student academic success
"…[T]he greater the student's involvement or engagement in academic work or in the academic experience of college, the greater his or her level of knowledge acquisition and general cognitive development... [A] substantial amount of evidence indicates that there are instructional and programmatic interventions that not only increase a student's active engagement in learning and academic work but also enhance knowledge acquisition and some dimensions of both cognitive and psychosocial change”.
--- How College Affects Students: Findings and Insights from Twenty Years of Research. Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini (1991)

To enhance institutional reputation
NSSE was developed as an alternative to measures of academic reputation and is not meant to be ranked. See http://nsse.indiana.edu/html/ranking.cfm. Nonetheless, it often is.

Maclean’s compares indicator scores and comments on levels of engagement at Canadian universities in this 2015 article entitled: National Survey of Student Engagement: A truer measure of quality. Click here for the article.

To provide data to evaluate initiatives and monitor progress

How does NSSE align with York’s strategic direction?

Survey results will identify areas of excellence and weakness that can be tracked over time and relative to peer institutions. The results will help guide York’s efforts to improve its reputation and to monitor progress toward achieving strategic goals stated in the:

Has York participated in NSSE before?

Yes, every three years since 2005. All Ontario universities participate on a three-year cycle. York’s next scheduled participation is February 16 to March 31, 2017 and will mark the sixth time York has administered NSSE.

In 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014 all Ontario universities participated in NSSE as part of the annual Multi-Year Accountability Agreement required by the provincial government.

Why do we want to increase the participation rate?

A higher response rate yields better and more granular data to help us develop the right programs and enhance existing programs and services. Better programs and services will help us improve the educational experience for students.

How does York’s NSSE participation rate compare to other institutions?

In 2014, York’s participation rate increased by 11 percentage points, bringing it closer to the Ontario average. However, we can still have a ways to go to reach it:

First Year Senior Year
Ontario average 32% 35%
Ryerson 23% 25%
Toronto 34% 35%
York 27% 28%

Our 2017 goal is to increase York’s overall NSSE participation rate to 35 per cent.

How did York increase its response rate in 2014?

  • Effective and comprehensive communications plan including video, social media and a communications Toolkit for Faculty.
  • Promoting NSSE prior to sending the initial invitation plus customized reminders with proof points.
  • Offering incentives and prizes for completion.
  • Engaging the full York community to promote the survey.
  • Creating the NSSE Challenge Cup to foster friendly competition between Faculties.

How does NSSE help the student experience at York?

By completing the survey, students have a chance to tell us about their experiences both inside and outside the classroom.

As a result of this feedback, York will have the hard data it needs to improve the programs and services it offers and to make the undergraduate student educational experience more rewarding and fulfilling.

Has the NSSE data ever been used to make changes at York?

Yes. Here are some examples of changes on our campus as a result of the NSSE:

Changes based on 2011 data:

  • More relaxation spaces, for both commuter students and those in residence
  • One-stop services such as York’s RED Zone and Student Client Services
  • Increased service hours for admissions and student services (one late night per week)
  • Supplemental learning groups, such as peer mentorship in Bethune and the Living-Learning floors in residence
  • Club development support through Student Community & Leadership Development
  • Co-curricular Record, YUConnect: http://yuconnect.yorku.ca
  • Stronger student leadership program: YULead, http://yulead.yorku.ca

Changes based on 2014 data:

  • Implemented a Visual Schedule Builder
  • Added practicum and capstone course to a program
  • Hired more students in finance office – provided better services and on-campus jobs
  • Created Study Hub to help students find study groups and tutors
  • Created Manage My Academic Record to help students manage degree progress
  • Created more study space, classroom reservation system, new student lounge, more seating in public space
  • Developed an advising community of practice to facilitate cross-Faculty collaboration and information sharing
  • Developed student-led initiatives to support York’s Mental Health & Wellness Strategy established the Student Success Centre (SSC) to provide inclusive programming and services for students under one unified umbrella
  • Increased the number of dedicated group study rooms in the Learning Commons

The 2017 survey administration period at York

What are the dates of the NSSE survey administration in 2017?

The next NSSE survey period will begin on February 6, 2017 and end on March 31, 2017.

How will students be notified?

Students eligible to participate in the survey will be sent an e-mail invitation from the Office of the President, signed by President Shoukri, on February 6, 2014. Students who have not completed the survey will be sent up to 4 reminders from Vice-President Academic & Provost Rhonda Lenton.

What is being done to increase participation rates?

Our 2017 goal is to increase York’s overall NSSE participation rate to 35 per cent. Here is what we are doing to help achieve that:

  • Comprehensive print (posters in prominent spots on campus such as Vari Hall and the York Lanes Colonnade) and digital communications (social media, blogs, classroom screens, Moodle and student portal messages, LCD panels) campaign
  • Involving the community: A planning committee of about 25 members, which includes representatives from Faculties, central administration, the Student Representative Roundtable and the York Federation of Students
  • Video: A video promoting participation in NSSE is being created to play on all LCDs and to share on social media
  • A link to the survey from a student's personalized Moodle and my.yorku.ca page.
  • Inter-Faculty competition for the highest response rate – the NSSE Champion Cup
  • Incentives for students to participate
  • Promotion at student events
  • Communications Toolkit to help campus leaders provide a consistent message.
  • Outreach to student groups and faculty members to help encourage participation.
  • Centralized website to house NSSE information: yorku.ca/nsse
  • Web presence on appropriate and high-traffic student web pages
  • Features on YULink and in YFile

What are the short-term, medium-term and long-term plans for NSSE?

Evaluation – Post-NSSE 2017 administration period

  • Align data-gathering with competitors (e.g. final-year students in four-year degrees).
  • Form NSSE Results Team to analyze survey answers.
  • Analyze response rates – overall, by survey week (through administration period), by study level, by Faculty, by gender, by age group, etc.
  • Analyze non-respondents – by Faculty, by program, by gender, by age group, etc.
  • Analyze NSSE website and social media traffic.
  • What worked and what didn’t work.
  • Reasons for participation/non-participation.

Medium term

  • Share the data with Faculties and relevant administrative units, with appropriate safeguards of privacy.
  • Ensure that all recipients of data understand appropriate statistical methodology for assessing the results.
  • Provide a summary of results for interested community partners.
  • Involve students in the follow-up.

Longer term
Form Intervention and Assessment Committee to:

  • coordinate intervention, survey and assessment efforts across the institution;</
  • develop an inventory of initiatives;
  • develop evaluation frameworks to assess the effectiveness of interventions and assess outcomes.

What will we do with the results this time round?

York will use the NSSE results to inform our strategic planning and to shape an environment of excellence for learning and personal development of undergraduate students.

  • Share them with Faculties and administrative units, with relevant statistical apparatus.
  • Convene focus groups of students to get their insights into what kinds of initiatives would improve student engagement.
  • Form an intervention and assessment committee to coordinate improvement efforts at York.

How long does it take to complete the survey?

It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete the survey, which includes short questions about engagement, satisfaction and demographics.

Who runs NSSE?

NSSE is conducted by the Center for Postsecondary Research at the University of Indiana. For details, visit http://nsse.iub.edu.

Is the survey anonymous?

Survey data is confidential, but not anonymous as identified student responses are provided to institutional personnel. Survey answers will be kept confidential in accordance with NSSE’s privacy policy.

What incentives are being offered?

After completing the survey, and confirmation from NSSE that the student has responded, students will receive an email thank you and a “virtual coupon” on their YU-card for a grande beverage at Starbucks at the Centre for Film & Theatre only on the Keele campus OR a medium beverage from Tim Hortons on the Glendon campus OR a $5 York Lanes gift card OR $5 gift card from The Underground (while supplies last). Redemption details can be found here.

Students who complete the survey will be entered into a draw for one of 14 prizes:

  • Four $500 Tuition Waivers: two for 1st year and two for 4th year
  • Ten $100 YU-card “Top Ups"

Contest odds depend on the number of surveys completed. The last time we administered this survey, approximately 4,900 students responded.

How can a fourth-year student use the $500 tuition waiver if they are graduating?

Students in the final year of a four-year honours degree are eligible to win any of the prizes once they complete the survey: one of two $500 Tuition Waivers or one of ten $100 YU-card “Top Ups.” A fourth-year student may use the tuition waiver to offset tuition OR they can opt to have the $500 added to their YU-card OR they may opt to receive a $500 cheque. These last two options are not available to first-year students who complete the survey.

What are the contest rules?

Details about the contest rules are available at http://nsse.info.yorku.ca/contest-rules.

What is the NSSE Champion Cup?

Friendly competition can encourage participation. To help with that, we’re bringing back the NSSE Champion Cup. Faculties will compete against each other and the one with the highest participation rate by the end of the survey period in March will be awarded the Cup by the President. In 2014, the winner was the Schulich School of Business.

During the survey period, Faculty participation rates will be posted at http://nsse.info.yorku.ca/see-how-were-doing/ and updated weekly. Every Thursday at 2pm the latest results will be displayed on LCD screens across campus and posted in YFile the following Monday.

How can faculty members and administrators help?

We need every faculty member and administrator to encourage students to participate in the survey. The involvement of faculty and staff are key to the success of promotional efforts. Having a faculty or staff member outline the value placed on NSSE by the institution could help students see that NSSE is an important instrument worth completing.

For details about what information to share and how to share it, please see the Toolkit.

Is there anything prepared to help me promote NSSE to students?

As part of the comprehensive print and online communications campaign we’ve launched to promote participation, we’ve created a Communications Toolkit for Faculty, Administrators and Student Leaders. This Toolkit is designed to support conversation between peers as well as between faculty/staff and students. The Toolkit will include a PowerPoint presentation, a promotional button for websites, FAQs, a poster template for service area desks, content that can be used for newsletters or emails, protocols for promoting NSSE to students, and talking points.

How can I get posters or postcards to hand out?

There will be downloadable poster and postcard artwork on the York NSSE website in the Toolkit.

Where can I get more information about NSSE?

The best place to get comprehensive information about the survey at York is

If you have any additional questions, suggestions or concerns, please contact yorknsse@yorku.ca.