Despite the widespread use of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) for measuring the engagement of undergraduate university students in Canada, there is very little research exploring the survey or its use. The NSSE is a powerful tool built upon the vast post-secondary education research in the United States, which brings together the work and theories of the leading scholars of higher education. Building on the research of Astin, Pace and Chickering & Gamson, the NSSE has the potential to be a positive change-agent for faculty, administrators and staff seeking to improve post-secondary education in Canada.
This study adds to the literature by exploring the effectiveness of the NSSE benchmarks for measuring engagement of first-year students in the Faculties of Biological Sciences and Arts & Humanities. Specifically, the differences in engagement among the three institutional types (primarily undergraduate, comprehensive, and medical-doctoral) in Canada are explored.
This study uses ANCOVAs to identify significant differences in benchmark scores due to Faculty and institutional type. Multiple regression analyses are used to build and test models of prediction for the student outcome of grades.
The analysis determined that there are statistically significant differences among the three institutional types for the Faculties of Biological Sciences and Arts & Humanities. Students attending primarily undergraduate universities reported higher levels of engagement in both Faculties. Although significant, the differences have small, and in some cases, negligible, effects.
The multiple regression analyses determined that the benchmarks are poor predictors of the student outcome of grades. For each of the Faculties of Biological Sciences and Arts & Humanities, a stronger model of prediction for the student outcome of self-reported grade explains approximately 20% of the variance.
The most important implications of this research are that faculty, administrators, and staff who seek to improve the undergraduate experience for first-year students in Canada should use program- or Faculty- level analyses of engagement for both measuring engagement and for targeting areas for improvement. The findings indicate that the NSSE, when used with specific groups, is a powerful change-agent that will aid improvement of the undergraduate experience and contribute to increased student learning.