Grand Valley State University
Results from the 2010 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

Office of Institutional Analysis
October 18, 2010

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is a survey of undergraduate college students designed to measure the extent to which those students are engaged in educationally effective practices. The survey was launched in 2001, and GVSU has participated in 2005, 2007, and 2010. What follows is a summary of the responses of GVSU students to the 2010 survey, with comparisons to earlier GVSU data and to 2010 data from peer institutions.

In February 2010, we invited 3,604 first-year GVSU students and 3,790 GVSU seniors with at least 100 earned hours to complete the NSSE questionnaire online. Over 1,600 responded from each group, for a response rate of 44%. This is considerably higher than the average response rate at other institutions in GVSU's Carnegie Classification (30% overall and among primary peers). This higher response rate is likely to have some depressive effect on measures of student engagement -- that is, if the most engaged students are likely to take a survey of student engagement, then higher response rates presumably mean that more of the less-engaged students are being reached. The respondent population is similar to the invited populations in terms of gender, ethnicity, on-campus residence (among first-year), and transfer origin.

The primary peer group referenced in this report consists of all the schools that participated in the 2009-10 NSSE that a) are publicly controlled; b) have a Carnegie Classification of "Masters (Large)"; c) have at least 10,000 total students; d) have 6-year graduation rates of at least 50%; e) have an entering class with a 75th percentile ACT score of at least 23; and f) have an undergraduate student body that is no more than 20% part-time students[1]. Two institutions that don't meet all of these criteria (Boise State and Youngstown State) are included in the peer group because they are among GVSU's most frequently referenced peer institutions. The resultant group includes:

˙         Boise State University

˙         California State University -- Chico

˙         Eastern Illinois University

˙         Southern Illinois University -- Edwardsville

˙         University of Nebraska at Omaha

˙         University of Northern Iowa

˙         University of Wisconsin -- Whitewater

˙         Youngstown State University

The NSSE is constructed to yield 5 scales that are purported to measure distinct aspects of college student engagement: Level of Academic Challenge; Active and Collaborative Learning; Student-Faculty Interaction; Enriching Educational Experiences; and Supportive Campus Environment. This report presents trends and peer comparisons within each of these areas, plus information on students' perceived development during college and their satisfaction with the university. Responses to special supplemental questions about writing instruction and respondents' open-ended comments are also summarized here.

All differences noted here are statistically significant at α ≤ 0.05 (unless they're specifically described as "not significant"). Text of questionnaire items may be paraphrased. Please refer to the detailed documents posted at for exact wording and more specific findings.

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."

Level of Academic Challenge



GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010




Scores improved significantly on the Academic Challenge scale for both freshmen and seniors. Among freshmen, growth was driven by increases in most of the component items but particularly:

˙         Hours spent preparing for class;

˙         Degree to which coursework emphasizes analysis;

˙         Amount of assigned reading;

˙         Working harder than expected to meet standards.

Improvement among seniors was less dramatic (but statistically significant), and was driven mainly by increases in hours spent studying and perception that the campus environment emphasizes spending time studying.

Grand Valley freshmen reported a greater level of academic challenge than their peers. Respondents indicated more challenge on most component items, but differences were greatest for time spent studying, number of reading assignments; and environment that emphasizes study time. GVSU freshmen indicated significantly fewer long (20+ pages) writing assignments. The average level of challenge was greater among GVSU seniors than among peers too. The strongest factors creating that difference were the perceived environment emphasizing study and the number of mid-length (5 to 19 pages) writing assignments.


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."

Active and Collaborative Learning





GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010




Scores on the Active and collaborative Learning scale improved significantly among GVSU freshmen, but not among seniors. The first-year improvement was driven by increases in the amount that students said they discussed course content outside of class with friends and family, the amount of group work students did outside class, and the degree to which they asked questions or contributed in the classroom. Seniors reported more out-of-class group work, but didn't indicate significant change in the other items that constitute the scale.

Freshmen at Grand Valley scored significantly lower than their peers on the measures of Active and Collaborative Learning. This was due mainly to making fewer class presentations and participating in fewer community-based projects than first-year peers. GVSU seniors were not significantly different from peers on this scale, although they too reported significantly less involvement in community projects.


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."

Student-Faculty Interaction



GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010



GVSU freshmen indicated significantly more interaction with faculty in 2010 than they did in 2007, but the amount reported by seniors did not change significantly. The improvement among freshmen was most evident in how often students said they talked about career plans or discussed specific grades or assignments with faculty members.

At both first-year and senior levels peer students reported more interaction with faculty than Grad Valley students. Among first-year students, the difference was significant for several component items, including the percentage who had worked on a research project with faculty outside of required classes. Grand Valley seniors' scores on the scale were dragged down particularly by the amount they reported working with faculty on non-course-related activities (e.g. committees, organizations, etc.).


Enriching Educational Experiences:
"Complementary learning opportunities enhance 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."

Enriching Educational Experiences





GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010




Seniors' scores on the Enriching Experiences scale improved significantly since 2007, while the scores of first-year students were flat. The freshmen reported significantly more involvement in learning communities and more hours spent participating in co-curricular activities, but those gains were offset by a drop in the frequency they reported engaging in serious conversations with students with different ethnic backgrounds from their own. The seniors' improvement was driven primarily by an increase in the percentage that had completed a "culminating senior experience" (e.g. a capstone class, thesis, or senior project).

GVSU freshmen scored the same as their peers at other schools on the overall scale, but they were significantly above average in the degree to which they thought the school was committed to encouraging contact among diverse students, the proportion who had taken a foreign language, and the time spent in co-curricular activities. They were significantly below average in learning community participation and community service work. Grand Valley's senior respondents outscored peers on the Enriching Experiences scale due to a large advantage in the proportion who had completed a culminating experience. They were significantly more likely than other schools' seniors to have studied abroad, but also indicated spending less time on co-curricular activities.


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."

Supportive Campus Environment





GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010




First-year students at GVSU reported a more supportive environment in 2010 than in 2007. The strongest gains were in the degree to which students felt the university emphasizes helping students cope with non-academic problems and social integration. Seniors scores on the supportive environment scale did not change, and 2010 responses on nearly all of the component items were statistically similar to those from 2007.

Among first-year students, GVSU students perceive more support than their peers at other schools. In particular, GVSU freshmen perceive a stronger emphasis on providing students the support they need to succeed academically. They also report more positive relationships with fellow students and more social support from the school. Grand Valley seniors do not perceive their environment as more or less supportive than seniors at peer schools, although they also say the institution emphasizes providing students the support they need to succeed academically.


Self-Reported Growth:

NSSE respondents are asked to assess how much their institution has contributed to their growth in a variety of personal and educational domains. Following is a summary of statistically significant findings.

The gains attributed to GVSU by freshmen in 2010 were greater than those reported in 2007 in nearly all areas:

˙         General education

˙         Writing

˙         Speaking

˙         Critical thinking

˙         Quantitative Analysis

˙         Using Computers & IT

˙         Teamwork

˙         Self-understanding

˙         Problem solving

˙         Ethics

˙         Contributing to community

˙         Spirituality


Of these, gains were strongest in ethics and speaking. Self-reported gains only declined in one domain, voting in state, national, or national elections. Note that 2010 respondents were reporting behavior in a period with no major elections (Sep 2009 -- Feb 2010), while the 2007 respondents were at GVSU for the 2006 mid-term and gubernatorial elections.


By contrast, Grand Valley seniors reported very similar levels of growth to what was reported in 2007. Gains in general education were slightly but significantly better in 2010 over 2007, while all other areas were statistically unchanged.


Compared to peers, first-year students indicate that GVSU is doing particularly well in the areas of general education, writing, and critical thinking, while they report below-average gains in voting and speaking. Gains in contributing to community, quantitative analysis, teamwork, and ethics are somewhat above average at GVSU, relative to first-year peers. Grand Valley seniors report significantly more growth in general education and writing than seniors at peer schools. Seniors also report a smaller but significant advantage in critical thinking, as well as modest but significant disadvantages in speaking and voting.



Satisfaction with Academic Advising





GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010



Satisfaction with overall experience



GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010



Would you choose the same school again?



GVSU 2010



GVSU 2007



Peers 2010




First-year students' satisfaction with academic advising has improved significantly since 2007, while the indicators of their overall satisfaction are unchanged. There was a significant decline in seniors' certainty that they would choose GVSU if they had the opportunity to start over again.


GVSU students' satisfaction with advising is similar to that reported at peer institutions, but both first-year students and seniors reported greater overall satisfaction than their peers, and both indicated stronger conviction that they would choose the same school again.


Consortium for the Study of Writing in College:


GVSU participated in a voluntary consortium to collect supplemental information about writing instruction and writing practices. Because the supplemental questions were not included in previous versions of NSSE, trend information is not available. Furthermore, the voluntary nature of the consortium means that we have no control over the composition of the peer group. In fact, the consortium includes a large number of private schools and schools that are much smaller than GVSU. As such, the comparison data for the supplemental questions reflects a set of experiences that are frequently very different from those experienced by GVSU students, and comparative data should be interpreted with caution.


In general, first-year GVSU respondents are more likely than peers to report that they engage in effective writing practices, especially proofreading, having a draft reviewed by a professor before the final version, and getting feedback on drafts from others. However, those habits don't appear to carry over to the senior year, at which point Grand Valley students are no more likely (and sometimes significantly less likely) than peers to use those practices.

GVSU Freshmen report doing less of most types of writing assignments than other consortium freshmen. This includes describing personal experiences, multimedia projects, analytic or evaluative writing, and persuasive writing. Seniors at GVSU and elsewhere report a similar amount of writing across the various types. Grand Valley seniors report more assignments calling upon them to write in the style of a particular discipline, but report that fewer of their assignments include visual content like charts or images.




All NSSE respondents are instructed "If you have any additional comments or feedback that you'd like to share on the quality of your educational experience, please type them below." Comments from the 2010 respondents were less common and generally less favorable than in previous years.


Expressions of unqualified favor ("I Love GVSU", "Grand Valley is a great university") are still the most common comments, but a strong vein of discontent runs through the statements as well. The most frequent complaints are: unhelpful/bad advising; inadequate support for non-traditional students; and excessive degree requirements. Many students praise the quality and dedication of the faculty, but many also say they experienced faculty who were unhelpful, rude, or unprofessional. Several report that they encountered frustrating bureaucracy and/or rude or unhelpful staff members.


[1] GVSU data: 6-year grad rate=61%; ACT 75th %ile=26; 12% of undergraduates are part-time.