National Survey of Student Engagement—Winter/Spring 2009
The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) assesses the institutional learning environment for undergraduates, focusing on the nature and quality of student experiences. Items on the NSSE measure the degree to which student engage in educational behaviors and practices that are empirically related to desirable educational outcomes, such as learning gains, personal development, persistence, and graduation.
In order to represent students at the early and late stages of their college careers, the survey sample at each participating school includes both first-year students and seniors. Portland State University (PSU) participated in the NSSE during winter and spring of 2009.
The average response rate across institutions participating in the NSSE was 36%. At PSU, 745 of the 4,987 students included in the sample responded to the survey, for an overall response rate of 15%. This report summarizes the PSU survey results for freshmen and seniors and compares them to results at other urban universities (UUs) and at other Carnegie Peers  (CPs). All reported differences are statistically significant (p < .05). The Executive Summary includes a brief overview of the findings organized in relation to major initiatives currently underway at PSU. A detailed review of the findings follows the Executive Summary.
At the Fall 2009 Convocation, Portland State President Wiewel reported on planning, actions, and outcomes related to five institutional themes that serve as a blueprint for PSU’s future: civic leadership through partnerships, student success, global excellence, enhanced educational opportunities, and improved institutional effectiveness. The NSSE results provide a student perspective on how the institution is performing in these areas and several NSSE items provide a means of tracking the effect of the institution’s action plans on the student experience over multiple administrations of NSSE.
Civic Leadership through Partnerships
assesses student behaviors, experiences, and practices that are empirically
related to desirable outcomes and therefore many of the survey items inform
Similarly, PSU students rated the quality of advising they receive as “fair” to “good”, but their average ratings were lower than those of students at other institutions. In addition, PSU students reported that they talked with faculty members or other advisors about career plans less frequently than either UU or CP students did.
second indicator of student success is how well students achieve institutional
learning goals. Many items on the NSSE
measure pedagogically-sound practices that lead to deep learning, and the
instrument specifically includes a section in which students indicated how much
their experience at their institution has contributed to their knowledge,
skills, and personal development in a variety of ways, many of which map onto
the recently adopted
One area of emphasis under this theme is pursuing diversity and internationalization goals for students. In general, PSU students reported having occasional discussion with students who hold diverse religious beliefs, political opinions, or personal values, or who are from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds. They also reported incorporating diverse perspectives (different races, religions, genders, political beliefs) into class discussion or assignments “sometimes” or “often”.
students felt that their education had contributed to their understanding of
persons from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds “some” to “quite a bit” and
that PSU offers “some” to “quite a bit” of encouragement for contact among
students from different economic, social, and racial or ethnic
backgrounds. However, seniors at
NSSE items are directly related to
Enhanced Educational Opportunities
Improved Institutional Effectiveness
One way to enhance institutional effectiveness is through improving the campus climate. PSU students’ ratings of the quality of relationships with faculty and administrative personnel were lower than those of students at other institutions. PSU students felt they received less support than other UU or CP students did for succeeding academically. Additionally, they felt their institution placed less emphasis on supporting their social and non-academic responsibilities than did UU or CP students.
Overall, PSU students rated their satisfaction with their
and the quality of academic advising as fair to good (M = 2.88 and M = 2.55 respectively, on a
4-point scale where 1 = poor, 2 = fair, 3 = good, and 4 = excellent). They indicated that they would probably attend PSU again if they could start over (M = 2.92, using a 4-point scale where 1 = definitely no, 2 = probably no, 3 = probably yes, and 4 = definitely yes). Compared to student ratings at peer institutions, however, PSU student ratings were less favorable on these items, as shown in Figures 1, 2 & 3.
Respondents indicated how often they participated in academic and intellectual experiences using a 4-point scale (1 = never, 2 = sometimes, 3 = often, and 4 = very often). PSU students worked most often on papers or projects that required the integration of ideas and information from various sources (M = 3.21). Other frequent classroom activities included discussing ideas from readings or classes with others outside of class (M = 2.94) and asking questions in class or contributing to class discussions (M = 2.93). Students reported that they frequently used e-mail to communicate with an instructor outside of class (M = 3.14).
Academic experiences that involved interaction with faculty included discussing grades or assignments with instructors (M = 2.58), working harder than students thought they could to meet instructor standards or expectations (M = 2.54), and receiving prompt feedback from faculty on academic performance (M = 2.60). Students reported that they sometimes talked with faculty members outside of class about class readings (M = 1.82) or career plans (M = 1.92). Student rarely worked with faculty on activities other than coursework (M = 1.51).
Frequent forms of interaction with other students included conversing with students from diverse ethnic backgrounds (M = 2.59) or with students who hold diverse religious or political beliefs, opinions or values (M = 2.60). In addition, PSU students worked often with other students on projects during or outside of class (M = 2.55 & M = 2.54 respectively).
As shown in Figure 4, PSU seniors more frequently engaged in many academic and intellectual practices when compared to freshmen. In particular, seniors more frequently integrated ideas from different courses or sources to complete projects, participated in community-based projects, and discussed career plans with an instructor or advisor. Seniors were also more likely than freshmen to use electronic media (e.g., Internet, instant messaging, e-mail) to discuss or complete assignments and to communicate with instructors. PSU freshmen were more likely than seniors to include diverse perspectives in class discussions or assignments (M = 2.97 & M = 2.85 respectively), prepare multiple drafts of papers (M = 2.61 & M = 2.38 respectively), and work with classmates on projects during class (M = 2.62 & M = 2.50 respectively).
PSU seniors differed from other UU or CP seniors on 17 academic and intellectual practices; in most cases, PSU seniors reported engaging less frequently in these practices compared to UU or CP seniors. On only three items, PSU seniors reported more frequent activity than students at peer institutions. PSU seniors engaged more frequently than UU or CP seniors in community-based learning projects as part of regular coursework, use of electronic media to discuss or complete assignments, and discussions of their readings or assignments with others outside of classes (see Figure 5).
PSU freshmen differed from other UU or CP freshmen on 13 academic and intellectual practices. For half of these items, PSU freshmen reported engaging more frequently in these practices than students at peer institutions. When compared to UU or CP freshmen, PSU freshmen more frequently made class presentations, included diverse perspectives in class discussion or writings, and worked with other students during class and outside of class. PSU freshmen were less likely than other freshmen to talk about career plans with an instructor or advisor, use e-mail to communicate with instructors; and work harder than they thought possible to meet instructor expectations. (See Figure 6.)
Respondents used a 4-point scale (1 = very little, 2 = some, 3 = quite a bit, and 4 = very much) to estimate how much their coursework emphasized five mental activities corresponding to levels of critical thinking. PSU students indicated that “quite a bit” of their coursework emphasized analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory (M = 3.19), applying theories or concepts to practical problems or new situations (M = 2.97), and synthesizing and organizing ideas into more complex interpretations and relationships (M = 2.96). Freshmen and seniors had similar ratings of the emphasis PSU places on these critical thinking activities.
When compared to students at peer institutions, PSU students reported less emphasis on rote memorization, however, they also reported less emphasis on making judgments about the value of information, and applying theories in new situations. Seniors at PSU also reported that their coursework emphasized synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experiences into new, more complex interpretations less than seniors at CP and UUs. (See Figure 7.)
Respondents rated the amount of reading and writing they accomplished during the current school year using a 5-point scale (1 = none, 2 = fewer than 5, 3 = between 5 and 10, 4 = between 11 and 20, and 5 = more than 20). On average, PSU students read between five and ten assigned textbooks, books, or book-length packets of course readings (M = 3.33), whereas they read fewer than five unassigned books on their own (M = 2.36).
PSU students wrote brief papers (i.e., fewer than 5 pages in length) most frequently (M = 3.22). They wrote fewer than five short papers or reports (i.e., 5 to 19 pages in length) (M = 2.48) and fewer than five long papers or reports (i.e., 20 or more pages) (M = 1.47). Students also worked on fewer than five long (i.e., take more than an hour to complete) or short (i.e., take less than an hour to complete) problem-based homework assignments (M = 2.65 and M = 2.36 respectively). PSU students read more books for enjoyment and wrote more brief papers when compared to UU or CP students. In addition, PSU seniors read more assigned text books, books or packs of course-readings than UU or CP students did (see Figure 8.)
In a typical week, PSU freshmen work on two to three problem sets that take longer than an hour to complete and two or three more that take less than an hour to complete (M = 2.70 and M = 2.67 respectively, using a scale where 1 = None, 2 = 1-2, 3 = 3-4, 4 = 5-6, 5 = More than 6). This is on par with freshmen at UU and CP institutions. PSU seniors work on long problem sets (M = 2.61) more frequently than short ones (M = 2.12). PSU seniors were similar to UU and CP seniors in the number of long problem sets they worked on, but PSU seniors worked on fewer short problem set than UU and CP seniors did (M = 2.36 and M = 2.42 respectively).
PSU students also described how much their exams challenged them to do their best work using a 7-point scale (1 = Very little to 7 = Very much). The ratings of both freshmen (M = 5.15) and seniors (M = 5.27) at PSU were lower than those of other students (M = 5.41 for freshmen and M = 5.44 for seniors at UU; M = 5.39 for freshmen and M = 5.43 for seniors at CP institutions).
Respondents rated the extent to which their college education contributed to their knowledge, skills, and personal development using a 4-point scale (1 = very little, 2 = some, 3 = quite a bit, and 4 = very much). PSU students indicated that their college education contributed the most to their ability to think critically and analytically (M = 3.14) and to their broad, general education (M = 2.99). Students also rated PSU education highly for contributing to their ability to write clearly and effectively (M = 2.88), to work effectively with others (M = 2.89), and to use computing and information technology (M = 2.93).
PSU seniors more than freshmen felt that their college education had contributed to their broad, general education (M = 3.04 and M = 2.88, respectively) and work-related knowledge and skills (M = 2.68 and M = 2.40, respectively). Freshmen were more likely than seniors to indicate that their experiences at PSU had contributed to their understanding of people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds (M = 3.67 and M = 2.48, respectively) and their voting in elections (M = 2.50 and M = 2.32, respectively).
PSU students indicated that their college education had contributed least to helping them develop a deepened sense of spirituality (M = 1.56) and a personal code of ethics (M = 2.35). These results do not mean that PSU students lack a sense of spirituality of ethics; instead, these results indicate that students did not feel that PSU contributed to these aspects of their personal development, regardless of individual levels of growth in these areas.
students rated their institution’s contribution to their education and personal
growth lower than students from UU or CPs did, with few exceptions. Freshmen and seniors at
The survey items pertaining to enriching educational experiences asked students to report past or expected future participation. Therefore, seniors were more likely to report past actual behavior and freshmen were more likely to report a mix of past actual behavior and predicted future behavior on these items.
The majority of PSU students reported that they participated or expected to participate in culminating senior experiences (88.6%); practica, internships, or field experiences (75.4%); and community service or volunteer work (81.2%) before graduating. Fewer PSU students participated or expected to participate in independent study or self-designed majors (20.5%), study abroad programs (37.5%), or research projects with faculty members outside of course or program requirements (33.2%).
NSSE provides statistical
comparison among peers based only on the percentage of respondents who
indicated they have “done” each activity.
Therefore, this measure has greater relevance for seniors (who have had
more time to participate in these activities than freshmen have. Despite this, both
As shown in Figure 11, more PSU seniors than other UU or CP seniors participated in a senior culminating experience. However, fewer PSU seniors participated in research projects with faculty outside of course requirements and in practica, internships, or other field experiences when compared to UU or CP seniors.
Student use of time is likely to be related to the number of classes in which they enroll; the NSSE samples included both full- and part-time students. Possible differences in student load within groups, between class levels, and among PSU, other UUs, and CPs were not factored into the reported responses, but should be kept in mind when interpreting the results.
Students used an 8-point scale (1 = 0 hrs, 2 = 5 or fewer hrs, 3 = 6 – 10 hrs, 4 = 11 – 15 hrs, 5 = 16 – 20 hrs, 6 = 21 – 25 hrs, 7 = 26 – 30 hrs, and 8 = more than 30 hrs) to estimate the hours they spend during a typical week engaging in a variety of activities. On average, PSU students spent the most hours preparing for class (M = 4.38), relaxing (M = 3.59), and working off campus (M = 3.33). They spent the fewest hours working for pay on campus (M = 1.87) and participating in co-curricular activities (M = 1.76).
PSU seniors were more likely than freshmen to spend time preparing for class (M = 4.44 and 4.23, respectively) and working for pay on campus (M = 1.90 and 1.70, respectively) and off campus (M = 3.87 and 2.76, respectively). They also spent more time than freshmen providing care for dependents who live with them (M = 2.66 and 1.85, respectively). PSU freshmen spent more time than seniors participating in co-curricular activities (M = 1.90 and 1.67, respectively) and relaxing or socializing (M = 4.00 and 3.34, respectively).
PSU students are generally similar to their PC and UU peers in how they spend their time, with a few differences. Both PSU freshmen and seniors spend less time on co-curricular activities than CP students and more time commuting to classes. PSU seniors spend more time that CC or CP peers preparing for class. In addition, PSU seniors spend more time than seniors at other UUs working for pay on-campus and less time working for pay off-campus. (See Figure 12.)
PSU students used a 4-point scale (1 = very little, 2 = some, 3 = quite a bit, and 4 = very much) to rate the extent to which PSU emphasized a supportive college environment. PSU students indicated that PSU emphasized using computers in academic work (M = 3.40) and spending significant amounts of time studying (M = 2.90). They reported that PSU placed less emphasis on helping students cope with non-academic responsibilities such as work and family life (M = 1.81) or providing support for students to thrive socially (M = 1.93).
freshmen than seniors experienced
experienced a less supportive environment at
Respondents rated the quality of their relationships with people at their school using 7-point scales (1= unfriendly, unsupportive, sense of alienation to 7 = friendly, supportive, sense of belonging). On average, PSU students were neutral to favorable in their ratings of other students, faculty, and administrative personnel. PSU students indicated that their relationships with other students were somewhat friendly and supportive (M = 5.02). They described faculty members as somewhat available, helpful and sympathetic (M =4.93). PSU student ratings of administrative personnel and offices were more neutral (M = 4.21). PSU freshmen and seniors were similar in their ratings of relationships with faculty and staff and students. PSU students made less favorable ratings than UU or CP students of their relationships with other students, faculty, and administrative personnel. (See Figure 14 for seniors’ ratings.)
results of the NSSE indicate the extent to which students are engaged in good educational
practices and what they gain from their college experience. Items on the NSSE ask about student behaviors
that correlate with positive learning and personal development outcomes of
attending university. PSU students were moderately satisfied with
their educational experiences at
For more information about these results and future administrations of NSSE, please contact Juliette Stoering, Office of Institutional Research and Planning, 503-725-3427, email@example.com.
 The UUs
that participated in the NSSE along with
”Carnegie Peers” is a designation of the Carnegie Classifications System. 30
institutions that belong in this classification participated in the survey
 Please note. All reported differences are statistically significant (p < .05).
 For this item, PSU seniors differed only from at freshman at other UUs only; PSU seniors did not differ from CP seniors.
 For this item, PSU freshmen differed from freshmen at UUs only; PSU freshmen did not differ from CP freshmen.
 CP freshmen worked on more short-problem sets than PSU freshmen did.
 One exception is that PSU and other UU freshmen made similar ratings of their relationships with faculty members.