When high school students and their parents tour colleges, the “bricks and mortar” aspect of the institutions — the library, student center, technology in the classrooms, and stadium – can uber-impress. And yet, what best supports students in being most successful during college are the “intangibles” of professor engagement, student spirit, and alumni loyalty.
What exactly is student engagement, and how can we define and measure it?
The time and effort that students put into their educational activities is one part of the equation; the other is how colleges use their resources (faculty, curriculum, and opportunities) to entice students to participate in purposeful and rewarding ways. On a college visit, asking questions that probe engagement matters! How much time students spend studying each week, how often students talk with faculty and advisors, and how easy it is to access research with professors are areas to probe.
Does anyone measure student engagement?
For over 22 years, Indiana University has issued a National Survey of Student Engagement. Participating colleges and universities, including their faculty and students, answer questions that lead to identifying high-impact practices on campuses; colleges use this information in strategic planning to improve students’ experiences and outcomes. For both students and parents, this equates to value for your dollar.
What are some factors that lead to engagement?
- easy access to research
- presentations to faculty and peers
- learning outside of the classroom (service learning, study abroad, internships)
- multiple advisors and mandatory, designated time for advising that is high-quality
- challenging levels of reading and writing
- interdisciplinary learning that involves using numbers (stats) in courses
Who actually uses this NSSE survey and can I see the results?
Typically, colleges use this survey every 3-5 years and employ the results in strategic planning. You can view participating institutions here as well as ways in which institutions can view their results. Interestingly, the quality of interactions and “belongingness” are the two factors that matter most to a student’s engagement; and engagement leads to persistence, which means graduating on time and with experiences that matter.
It is easy to be bowled over by the size of a stadium or the appeal of a lazy river on campus. Yes, these amenities matter to a student’s college experience, but real engagement is rooted in the quality of the experience in and around the classroom. When visiting campuses, identify those factors that lead to students’ involvement and satisfaction. We offer NSSE’s pocket guide of questions, or you can view NSSE’s parent page and online guide here.