A prompt for change: Using the National Survey of Student Engagement to initiate institutional change

G. Geoffrey Cromarty, University of Pennsylvania


In just five years, The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has become increasingly valuable to higher education institutions for measuring the quality of the undergraduate experience by asking first- and fourth-year college students about educationally purposeful activities considered essential to undergraduate development and learning. The objective of the NSSE is to “Provide data to colleges and universities to use for improving undergraduate education, inform state accountability and accreditation efforts, and facilitate national and sector benchmarking efforts, among others” (Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning, 2004). Through the case study method, this dissertation explored what new programs and initiatives three small institutions have implemented to improve the undergraduate experience. It addressed one central question: What strategies and programs are institutions putting in practice to improve the educational experience for their students? The institutions in this research are small, independent, and tuition driven. Each is regional and attracts students with similar academic qualifications. These schools have their traditions and missions in the liberal arts curricula, but have increasingly added and strengthened their professional programs to attract students to their campuses. Faculty and administrators at all three of the institutions firmly believed that their students were fully engaged and that the levels of faculty-student interactions were high. Administrators and faculty at each school were unhappily surprised with the results of their initial NSSE data; there was great room for improvement. The findings from this research lead to two key conclusions: (1) The process by which a university community comes to understand and accept the data is complex and full of debate and disagreement; (2) Change efforts have primarily focused on improving NSSE scores; improving educationally purposeful activities has been more of a consequence of improvement in the data than a direct result of actions taken. NSSE can be a tool to enhance the student experience. The question is whether institutions will use it as a lever to enrich the education of their undergraduates for four critical years.

Subject Area

Higher education

Recommended Citation

Cromarty, G. Geoffrey, "A prompt for change: Using the National Survey of Student Engagement to initiate institutional change" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168017.