Jul 26, 2010

NSSE Revises ‘Pocket Guide to Choosing a College’

For a number of years, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) has produced a handy “Pocket Guide to Choosing a College,” which suggests important questions for parents and students in the college decision-making process to ask.

Literally thousands of these pocket-sized green pamphlets have been made available to school guidance offices, college career centers, and other organizations engaged in the business of offering advice on college selection. And just as many have arrived on college campuses stashed in back pockets, ready for quick reference during tours and information sessions.

Now, in time for summer college visits, the little green booklet has undergone a slight facelift. The size is the same, but the front cover and some of the format and questions have changed.

Moving away from tones of green, the new guide features colorful pictures of several participating NSSE colleges and universities. The authors rearranged the order of questions starting with those dealing with “supportive campus environment” and ending with those concerning “academics.” Category explanations are fuller, and wasted space has been eliminated.

A few questions were deleted and others added or clarified with the goal of helping students get a sense of how much they are likely “to learn, grow, and develop at a given institution.” The questions are designed to ask people met during college visits—the tour guide, admissions staff, and currently enrolled students. But they are equally useful for other kinds of encounters such as college fairs, local group sessions, or high school presentations.

Each year, NSSE analyzes and reports on student surveys conducted at participating campuses. Responses to the survey provide “valuable information about what is actually going on in the lives of students and the quality of their college experiences.” In fact, a quick scan of the list of participating colleges and how frequently they conduct the survey gives an idea of the level of importance of student “engagement” to some colleges.

By the way, many colleges make survey results available on their websites. For example, you can find the results of the George Mason University 2009 survey on the Office of Institutional Assessment webpage. Catholic University also provides a detailed analysis of their student surveys, as does the Towson University Assessment Office.

Before going on tour, check to see if the college you are considering participates in NSSE. Take the time to review the information provided by admissions or the institutional research office. Then tuck a copy of “A Pocket Guide to Choosing a College” into your purse or back pocket and ask a few questions.

Copies of the guide may be found in many college advising offices. Or, you can download a copy (English or Spanish) from the NSSE website. But then, it probably won’t fit in your pocket.

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