student success

The Importance of College Student Engagement and Satisfaction for Student and Institutional Success

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

November 14, 2019

Student feedback data is a key element for understanding the student experience on campus.Satisfaction instruments and surveys on college student engagement are two ways that institutions capture the perceptions of their students about their experience inside and outside of the classroom.The combination of survey results provides a more complete perspective for institutions to consider.

The Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) from RNL captures how students assess their experience at the institution, both inside and outside of the classroom.The SSI asks students to identify levels of importance and satisfaction with a variety of items including instruction, advising, registration, financial aid, residence life, campus climate, and others. It is administered across all class levels during any time in the academic year, as determined by the institution and is appropriate for students at four-year and two-year colleges.

The National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) asks students to identify the amount of time and effort they put into their studies and other educational activities. The NSSE also captures student perceptions on the ways their institution provides resources, organizes the curriculum and encourages students to participate in activities that have been linked to student learning outcomes.The NSSE instrument is administered to first year and senior students only, in the spring of the academic year.The Community College Survey on Student Engagement (CCSSE) is administered to all students at two-year institutions and captures similar experiences as the NSSE.

Using Both the SSI and NSSE/CCSSE on Campus

The satisfaction and engagement instruments capture different aspects of the student experience, but the items on each instrument also support each other.Both assessments provide complementary opportunities to capture a more complete picture of the undergraduate experience to promote student learning, success, and educational attainment. Both instruments help campuses to think about how students interact with the institution.

College student engagement assessments show how students invest their time, the effort they devote to various academic and co-curricular endeavors, and the resulting gains they feel they achieve. Student satisfaction assessments look at satisfaction and the importance students place on various services, programs, and experiences, as well as the relative degree of satisfaction that results from their transactions. Student satisfaction assessments pinpoint areas within the institution that need immediate attention.

College student engagement assessments and student satisfaction assessments share some common characteristics as well.Both surveys examine important elements of the student experience, with engagement assessments focusing more on the academic / classroom dimensions while student satisfaction assessments focus more broadly on the total experience. In addition, both instruments yield information designed to illuminate and improve student and institutional performance.Stronger student retention results from high levels of student engagement and satisfaction.

Assessing both student satisfaction and student engagement is important in order to inform and guide an institution’s retention efforts.Both types of assessments provide timely, systematic, and relevant information on various facets of the undergraduate experience.Both instruments play an important role in crafting retention activities that improve student and institutional performance.

Students Are More Likely to be Satisfied if They are Engaged, and More Likely to be Engaged if they are Satisfied

We explored this topic with three campus presenters in a webinar, Student Satisfaction and Engagement: Using the Data for Student Success. They talked about their use of the RNL Student Satisfaction Inventory along with the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) at the four-year institutions and the Community College Survey on Student Engagement (CCSSE) at the two-year institution.

Eckerd College (Florida)

Jacqueline MacNeil, executive director of institutional effectiveness, shared that they found the SSI data to be fast and actionable, while the NSSE results provide longer range benchmarking for them. Since the NSSE is focused on the freshman and senior students, Eckerd College sees the SSI results as helping them to get data in the intervening years from sophomores and juniors as well. As they look at the results from both instruments, they consider the results reflecting the student experience in this manner:

  • SSI: Live, Work (academically), and Play
  • NSSE: Work (academically), Play and Live

Eckerd makes use of regular “listening sessions” with students to gather additional feedback on identified challenge items from the SSI. Jacqueline shared that students have the answers they are looking for and students are excited to share their opinions. She also noted that while there are times when “bad news” needs to be shared with faculty from both survey instruments, the data can lead to useful questions and the opportunity to work with the faculty to identify next steps to be responsive to the survey results.

Cornell College (Iowa)

Bethany Miller, formerly the director of institutional research at Cornell College and the new director of institutional research at Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, focused on her experience with the SSI and NSSE at Cornell and indicated that she is just beginning to work with the data from both instruments at Mary Baldwin as well.At Cornell, Bethany used “Wine, Cheese and Data” presentations to faculty, administrators and staff to share the results and to gather buy in for next steps with the data. She also met with each department to share the data that was relevant to the work those individuals were doing and helped them to identify strategies to raise satisfaction and engagement. She indicated that people on campus want help knowing how to digest and use the data in their work.

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (Wisconsin)

Mandy Henkel, research analyst in the Department of College Effectiveness, gathers data from their on-ground students with the SSI and CCSSE and from their online students with the RNL Priorities Survey for Online Learners (PSOL).She said that the data from all of the survey instruments make it easier to enact changes based on the results. All of the surveys are aligned with the Higher Learning Commission accreditation criteria, and the results are included in their Institutional Vitality Process which documents key performance indicators. Mandy noted that education and communication are key with the satisfaction and engagement survey results.She also acknowledged that not everyone on campus will understand data results in the same way, so she makes a point of presenting the results in charts and graphs, written paragraphs, specific examples and in bite size chunks, depending on her audience.

Watch the webinar for Student Satisfaction and Engagement

New Resource Available

A new resource is available from RNL which shows how the items on the Student Satisfaction Inventory support and are supported by the items on the National Survey on Student Engagement or the Community College Survey on Student Engagement. To request your copy (please indicate the version for the NSSE or CCSSE and if you want the original Form A SSI or the shorter Form B SSI version), send me an email.


About the Author

Julie Bryant of RNL

Julie L. Bryant, associate vice president of retention solutions at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America in the area of satisfaction assessment. Ms Bryant is responsible for client service...

Read more about Julie's experience and expertise

Reach Julie by e-mail at Julie.Bryant@RuffaloNL.com.


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