By Pauline Theeuws
Rider freshmen and seniors are asked every year to participate in the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE) which collects data regarding students’ engagement in the activities and programs the institution provides.
According to the NSSE’s website, student engagement represents two critical features of collegiate quality. First is the amount of dedication — time and effort — students put into their studies and educational activities. Second is how the four-year college or university allocates its resources, and organizes the curriculum and other learning opportunities to get students to engage on campus.
“The results provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college,” NSSE’s website stated.
Almost every year since 2004, freshmen and seniors receive an email from the provost to complete the survey before a set deadline. This year, each student who finished the online survey, which was sent out on Feb. 21, was automatically entered to win one of the two Apple iPad minis or one of 100 Starbucks $5 gift cards.
Assistant Director of Institutional Analysis Brad Litchfield said the university is a “strong supporter” of the NSSE survey items.
“These items represent empirically confirmed ‘good practices’ in undergraduate education, and they reflect behaviors by students and institutions that are associated with desired outcomes of college,” he said.
Litchfield shared that 2016 had the best response rate with engagement from 35 percent of the Rider population.
“This meant that 261 first-year and 389 senior students took the time to participate, and our response rate was about eight percentage points higher than our peer institutions,” he said.
Institutions typically receive their results in late August and are encouraged to improve the undergraduate experience inside and outside the classroom by changing practices and policies. The NSSE also publishes its annual report each November, which reports topical research and trends in student engagement results, according to its website.
Over the years, Rider has made some improvements in terms of physical setting, Litchfield explained.
“The Starbucks in the Student Recreation Center will be getting a facelift in the months ahead, which will include the serving of sandwiches, and we believe that it will continue to be a popular social setting for both students and employees,” he said.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ transformation of some areas in the Fine Arts building, which allows students and faculty to have more casual interactions with one another, as well as renovations in various labs, classrooms and lecture halls, improve engagement inside the classroom and “accommodate the educational needs of students,” Litchfield said.
However, this nationally known survey doesn’t come without some criticism. Litchfield’s major complaint of the survey is that it doesn’t directly assess student learning. “In other words, it asks students what they think of their learning experiences rather than directly measuring learning outcomes,” he said.
Overall, Litchfield sees more positive aspects to the survey as it helps the administration hear students’ feedback on their engagement at Rider, which indirectly points out areas institutions are performing well in and areas that could still be improved.
“For us, it’s all about continuous improvement and how we can best help our students succeed,” he said. “We spend a lot of time looking at our results, especially the open-ended comments that students write. If we see an overwhelming theme of dissatisfaction in a certain area, then there is a discussion about what we can do to improve it.”