AAC&U News, December 2017
Facts & Figures

NSSE Report Shows Landscape of HIPs, Activism, and Inclusive Learning Practices

The National Survey of Student Engagement, a project of Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, has released its 2017 annual report including survey responses from first-year and senior students at 650 US and seventy-two Canadian institutions “to assess the extent to which [students] engage in educational practices associated with high levels of learning and development.” Though not all students from all institutions were asked all questions, the report shows a broad landscape of student engagement with diversity and inclusive learning practices, high-impact practices, activism, student support structures, and faculty interactions. It also includes new insight into the experiences of students of color, first-generation students, and gender-variant and LGBQ+ students.

Diversity and Inclusive-Learning Practices Boost Engaged Learning

  • While three-fifths of students took courses that pushed them to share experiences or respect the diverse ideas of others, “only half said their courses emphasized learning about other cultures or discussing issues of equity or privilege” (see figure 1).
  • Students who saw more focus on inclusive work in their courses were more likely to report higher-order, reflective, and integrative learning; higher quality interactions with other people at their institution; and more satisfaction with institutional support.


First-Generation Students Report Fewer Experiences with HIPs

  • First-generation students reported less engagement than other students in five of the six high-impact practices (HIPs) covered by the survey—learning communities, research with faculty, internships/field experiences, study abroad, and culminating senior experiences. Service learning was the only HIP that they were more likely than others to engage with (see figure 2).

December F&F Figure 2.jpg

  • Part of this discrepancy could be because first-generation freshmen were less likely than other first-year students to plan on engaging with four HIPs: internships/field experiences, study abroad, research with faculty, and culminating senior experiences (see figure 3).
  • According to the report, closing these gaps may require institutions to provide more information and resources to students while also breaking down “financial barriers that may deter participation in certain HIPs (e.g., internships and study abroad) by students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.”

December F&F Figure 3.jpg

Learning Experiences and Support for Gender-Variant and LGBQ+ Students

  • About 1 percent of student respondents identified as gender-variant, with write-in answers including “nonbinary, non-conforming, gender fluid, agender, transgender, genderqueer, and two spirit.”
  • According to the report, gender-variant “seniors were much more likely than their cisgender counterparts to major in arts and humanities while they were less well represented in business and health professions.” The authors of the report found this troubling since gender variant people may be underrepresented in health professions.
  • Gender-variant students were more likely than men or women to engage in research with a faculty member, and gender-variant seniors (44 percent) were also more likely to be involved in student leadership than men (36 percent) or women (39 percent).
  • However, gender-variant students overall were less likely to feel “supported by staff members who may influence their well-being outside the classroom.”
  • Students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, or other non-straight orientations (LGBQ+) “were more engaged than their peers in reflective and integrative learning activities, such as including diverse perspectives in coursework and connecting learning to societal problems or issues.”
  • While approximately 70 percent of all respondents, including heterosexual and LGBQ+ students, “were comfortable bringing up LGBQ+ issues in course discussions, only about half . . . felt their institutions demonstrated a substantial commitment to the overall well-being of LGBQ+ people.”

The Relationship Between Engagement and Activism

  • Approximately one in eight students asked about activism said they “planned to or had engaged in various forms of activism such as being part of a group that submitted demands to the administration or participating in or organizing a boycott, strike, sit-in, walk-out,” etc.
  • Student activists were more likely to engage in higher-order, reflective, and integrative learning practices in their coursework, including evaluating and synthesizing information, reevaluating their own views, and considering the perspectives of others.
  • The report’s authors argue that “rather than being a threat to the ideals of higher education, student activism appears to signal reflection, critical thinking, and engagement with ideas, combined with a vision for change.”

Did You Know?

NSSE and a companion survey, the Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement, measured the effects of first-year students’ expectations about student and faculty interactions (SFI) through coursework and advising. First-year students who had higher expectations actually “experienced lower levels of SFI than their peers who began with more modest expectations.” If their expectations for SFI were met, first-year students were more likely to report high-quality faculty interactions and say that they would “‘definitely’ return to the same institution if they could start over.” Because student and faculty interactions are key to high-quality learning and student success, these expectations gaps “reinforce the importance of helping new students to meet their expectations for the college experience” through first-year experiences such as orientation and other resources.

Images and data in this article are included by permission of the National Survey of Student Engagement from their 2017 annual report.

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AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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