National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

August, 2009

Prior years available


The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) annually assesses the extent to which undergraduate students are involved in educational practices empirically linked to high levels of learning and development. Schools from all across the country participate in NSSE. This year's analysis is based on more than 367,000 students at 640 colleges and universities that participated in the NSSE in 2009. The students represent a broad cross-section of first-year and senior students from every region of the country and Canada. The institutions are similar in most respects to the universe of four-year schools.

What are NSSE Benchmarks?

In an effort to make it easier for people on and off campus to talk productively about student engagement and its importance to student learning, collegiate quality, and institutional improvement, NSSE created five clusters or benchmarks of effective educational practice.

The benchmarks are made up of groups of items on the survey and are expressed in 100-point scales. Each year, NSSE calculates benchmark scores to monitor performance at the institutional, sector, and national level.

The links below present Earlham's benchmark scores and compares them to a group of peer institutions along with the NSSE national norms in the following areas:

Earlham's benchmark scores for multiple years can be found here.


Below is a description of each benchmark and the items from the survey used to determine the benchmark score.


Level of Academic Challenge


Challenging intellectual and creative work is central to student learning and collegiate quality. Colleges and universities promote high levels of student achievement by emphasizing the importance of academic effort and setting high expectations for student performance.

Items from the survey used in determining our Level of Academic Challenge benchmark include the following:

·        Preparing for class (studying, reading, writing, rehearsing, etc. related to academic program)

·        Number of assigned textbooks, books, or book-length packs of course readings

·        Number of written papers or reports of 20 pages or more; number of written papers or reports of between 5 and 19 pages; and number of written papers or reports of fewer than 5 pages

·        Coursework emphasizing analysis of the basic elements of an idea, experience or theory

·        Coursework emphasizing synthesis and organizing of ideas, information, or experiences into new, more complex interpretations and relationships

·        Coursework emphasizing the making of judgments about the value of information, arguments, or methods

·        Coursework emphasizing application of theories or concepts to practical problems or in new situations

·        Working harder than you thought you could to meet an instructor's standards or expectations

·        Campus environment emphasizing time studying and on academic work

Active and Collaborative Learning

Students learn more when they are intensely involved in their education and asked to think about what they are learning in different settings. Collaborating with others in solving problems or mastering difficult material prepares students for the messy, unscripted problems they will encounter daily during and after college.

Items from the survey used in determining our Active and Collaborative Learning benchmark include the following:

·        Asked questions in class or contributed to class discussions

·        Made a class presentation

·        Worked with other students on projects during class

·        Worked with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments

·        Tutored or taught other students

·        Participated in a community-based project as part of a regular course

·       Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with other outside of class (students, family members, co-worker, etc.)

Student-Faculty Interaction

Students learn firsthand how experts think about and solve practical problems by interacting with faculty members inside and outside the classroom. As a result, their teachers become role models, mentors, and guides for continuous, life-long learning.

Items from the survey used in determining our Student-Faculty Interaction benchmark include the following:

·        Discussed grades or assignments with an instructor

·        Talked about career plans with a faculty member or advisor

·        Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with faculty members outside of class

·        Worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework (committees, orientation, student-life activities, etc.)

·        Received prompt feedback from faculty on your academic performance (written or oral)

·        Worked with a faculty member on a research project outside of course or program requirements

Enriching Education Experiences

Complementary learning opportunities in and out of class augment academic programs. Diversity experiences teach students valuable things about themselves and others. Technology facilitates collaboration between peers and instructors. Internships, community service, and senior capstone courses provide opportunities to integrate and apply knowledge.


Items from the survey used in determining our Enriching Education Experiences benchmark include the following:

·        Participating in co-curricular activities (organizations, publications, student government, sports, etc.)

·        Practicum, internship, field experience, co-op experience, or clinical assignment

·        Community service or volunteer work

·        Foreign language coursework and study abroad

·        Independent study or self-designed major

·        Culminating senior experience (comprehensive exam, capstone course, thesis, project, etc.)

·        Serious conversations with students of different religious beliefs, political opinions, or personal values

·        Serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity

·        Using electronic technology to discuss or complete an assignment

·        Campus environment encouraging contact among students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic backgrounds

·        Participate in a learning community or some other formal program where groups of students take two or more classes together

Supportive Campus Environment

Students perform better and are more satisfied at colleges that are committed to their success and cultivate positive working and social relations among different groups on campus.

Items from the survey used in determining the Supportive Campus Environment benchmark include the following:

·        Campus environment provides the support you need to help you succeed academically

·        Campus environment helps you cope with your non-academic responsibilities (work, family, etc.)

·        Campus environment provides the support you need to thrive socially

·        Quality of relationships with other students

·        Quality of relationships with faculty members

·        Quality of relationships with administrative personnel and offices


See related NSSE documents
Return to Office of Institutional Research

Created by Mary Ann Weaver
August 14, 2009