University and the National Survey
of Student Engagement: Using Assessment Data
to Improve Student Learning
It would be hard to miss all the
recent news critical of existing methods by which colleges
and universities are assessed and ranked. Many critics have
pointed out the inadequacies of the U.S. News and World
Report rankings and especially their lack of attention
to any measures of student learning outcomes. In addition,
however, too many assessment models miss a key component--feeding
results back into continuous improvement of programs. One
exception to this rule is the National Survey of Student Engagement.
More than 470 different 4-year colleges and universities use
this instrument to receive information not only to demonstrate
their strengths to prospective students, but also to improve
the learning that occurs on their campuses and the programs
that can truly help students succeed in college.
At the heart of Millikin
University's learning experience is the Millikin
Program of Student Learning (MPSL). Evaluated in the 2001
NSSE, this innovative curriculum allows students, through
regularly scheduled meetings with faculty, to connect and
shape various areas of their study. The most recent NSSE study
measured the impact of the MPSL over four years, and, although
scores for Millikin seniors in all survey categories improved
from year 2000 to year 2001, these scores did not improve
at as high a rate as other institutions in the survey. This
data is particularly significant because the 2001 senior class
was the first class at Millikin to experience the MPSL curriculum
throughout their entire Millikin education.
Still, Paul Folger, Coordinator
of Institutional Research and Assessment at Millikin, feels
that the NSSE is a "great way to monitor changes"
at the institution. Mr. Folger is particularly pleased with
NSSE in comparison to other assessment instruments because
this survey "allows national comparison." He emphasizes
that NSSE questions measure "what students are doing
not just what their opinions are." He also stresses that
students get more out of their educational experience when
they are "engaged" and NSSE measures that student
Although "we are very pleased
with results in academic-based areas of the survey,"
he notes that one area of concern from this year's results
is "supportive campus environment" or social life.
Millikin is a small school in a moderate sized city, without
the community resources of some larger neighboring institutions.
Awareness of these findings from NSSE will allow the faculty
and administration to find ways to help students become more
involved in extra- and co-curricular activities that the University
currently offers and perhaps create more outlets for social
interaction in the future.
Mr. Folger also commented that the
graduating class of 2001 might have reacted to something of
a "guinea pig" effect. "We underwent a major
curricular change in 1995. The senior group that went through
the entire program may have reacted to the dramatic difference
from the upperclassmen's learning experience at the time."
The National Survey of Student Engagement,
or NSSE (pronounced "nessie"), was designed by assessment
experts to measure the level of academic challenge, time on
task, and students' participation in "educationally purposeful
activities directly influencing" quality of learning
and overall education experience. As a survey, NSSE annually
assesses the extent to which students at four-year colleges
and universities take part in educational practices that many
research studies show are strongly associated with high levels
of learning and personal development.
NSSE's "enriching educational
experience" category looks at elements such as community
service, practical experience, and participation in activities
outside the classroom. The "active and collaborative
learning" category evaluates elements such as making
class presentations, participating in community-based projects,
and working with other students on projects outside of class.
Millikin students scored particularly well in these two categories.
All of these elements are essential parts of the University
Seminar Program at Millikin, an introduction to university
life and to Millikin's commitment to service learning that
is required of all first year students. NSSE rankings for
Millikin freshman were in the highest percentiles.
Also mentioned in the 2001 NSSE
report is Millikin's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship
program. This program teams a student with a faculty member
to do an in-depth research project demonstrating that Millikin
undergraduates enjoy research opportunities similar to the
opportunities given to graduate students elsewhere.
Information in the NSSE report has
also been used by Millikin administration to support accreditation
information and has been built into reports to Millikin's
Board of Trustees. The Faculty Council on Curriculum is intensively
using NSSE data in its continuing effort to monitor the positive
impact of recent curricular changes.
Millikin University participated
in the pilot NSSE survey instrument. The survey was given
to Millikin freshman and then to the sophomores the following
year, allowing the originators of the survey to validate the
questions and survey structure.
For more information on Millikin
University, see www.millikin.edu.
For information on the Millikin Program of Student Learning
go to www.millikin.edu/academics/mpsl/index.html.
For more information about the National Survey of Student
Engagement, see www.iub.edu/~nsse.