Staff, professors encourage students to participate in the NSSE survey

On Feb. 20, 2008, 3,000 SHSU students received an e-mail with the subject line, “Sam Houston State University Wants your Feedback!” The body of the e-mail was an invitation for students to share some information about their experiences at SHSU, and it included a link to a survey.

The e-mail came from the University Provost’s office, and was administered by the National Survey of Student Engagement, or NSSE (pronounced ‘Nessie’). NSSE, which is based at Indiana University, gathers information about academic experiences from college seniors and freshmen around the country. The information is used in a variety of ways, from improving existing university programs to helping incoming students select a university.

According to Dr. Rita Caso, director of the office of institutional research and effectiveness, there hasn’t been enough of a response to ensure an accurate representation of the experiences of Sam Houston students. So far, fewer than 5% of the invited students have completed the survey.

“We want an accurate picture of how students perceive their academic experience,” said Dr. David Payne, the university provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The more accurate that picture is, the more we can improve our services.”

More students need to honestly respond to the survey before the university can be sure that it has received an accurate representation of students’ experiences at SHSU. Caso said in the coming weeks, the 3,000 invited students will receive reminders and follow-up invitations in their inboxes. The first reminder will come today, with the subject line, “Help Evaluate Sam Houston State University.” Additional e-mails will be sent on Mar. 24 and April 1.

According to their Web site, NSSE is surveying 774 colleges and universities in 2008. It gathers information about student participation in programs and activities that colleges provide, as well as information about what student engagement inside and outside the classroom. Student participants are selected randomly by NSSE if their university has chosen to take part in the study.

“I proposed bringing NSSE to the campus and have encouraged its use as a method of improving the service we provide to our students,” Payne said.

The information NSSE gathers from students will be useful to many university departments. Dr. Keri Rogers, who is the Director of the First-Year Experience Program and the Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, plans on using it to develop and run programs to help freshmen make the transition to college.

“When we find areas of need, we can address those issues,” Rogers said. “Then when we find our successes, we can know that we’re doing the right thing and keep doing that. It’s confirming what we’re doing right, and it’s helping us know how we can improve.”

The information from NSSE can also be used to compare SHSU with other universities. This can help high school seniors and their parents make decisions when choosing a college.

“It’s a useful tool for helping the university to define itself to its customers, and to help it improve itself,” Caso said.

NSSE only takes about 15 minutes to complete. If you received an e-mail from NSSE on Feb. 20, or if you get one later this semester, Caso said it is important that to take 15 minutes to honestly respond to the survey.

“It’s important that students realize if they’re getting [NSSE] they’re representing the university.” Caso said. “The university needs to have a serious picture of what students experience, otherwise we’re just guessing. This is one organized, systematic way of getting at some of the important intellectual and social and emotional pieces that fit together that make a university experience what it is.”

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