The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is an annual survey that assesses the extent to which undergraduate first-years and seniors engage in educational practices associated with high levels of learning and development. The survey is based on the premise that the frequency with which students engage in effective educational practices indicates the quality of the educational experience.
Overall, 546 institutions of higher education across Canada and the United States participated in NSSE during the spring of 2012, with 285,926 students responding to the survey. Each individual item was compared to the average of all US institutions participating in NSSE for Spring 2012 to determine significant differences (most of which are traditional, campus-based colleges or universities). A total of 9,973 Ashford students (first year/freshmen and graduating seniors) were invited to participate in the 2012 NSSE, with 2,753 responding.
Ashford University has categorized each survey item into one of our nine Institutional Outcomes. Selected items that are applicable to our student population are included, with explanations of initiatives to address them. Comparisons between Ashford and NSSE 2012 (national comparison group) results are included in this section.
In terms of general satisfaction, Ashford student ratings are significantly higher than national averages in the areas of quality of academic advising, overall educational experience, and likelihood to attend the same university again, given the opportunity to start over.
See General Satisfaction tab below.
Ability to communicate effectively in speech and writing
Ashford respondents rated themselves significantly higher than the national averages in the extent to which their experience at the institution contributes to developing the skills of writing clearly and effectively. Ashford courses require regular discussion posts, where students have many opportunities to develop and apply good writing skills. Students report significantly more writing assignments (written papers or reports between 5 and 19 pages) than national averages, with a stronger difference seen at the senior level, further highlighting the emphasis on writing skill development at Ashford. The Writing Center is a resource currently available to students to develop their skills in this area.
See Speech & Writing tab below.
Ability to communicate through technology
Responding students rated Ashford University well above the national average on the institution's contributions to personal development in computing and information technology and use of computers in academic work. Ashford students are afforded with a rich learning experience by participating in dynamic and stimulating courses that include additional options for students to communicate through technology.
All courses currently require the application of MS Office. Also included in some courses are Web 2.0 tools (including blogs), simulations, interactive media provided by publishers, and other innovative multimedia being experimentally applied to the classroom. The online classroom is available both through web and mobile access.
See Technology tab below.
Understanding of various forms of diversity
Responding Ashford University students rated themselves above the national average ratings for seeking to better understand the perspectives of others and including diverse perspectives in coursework. Various forms of diversity are promoted through Ashford Academic and Student Affairs initiatives. The student population of Ashford lends itself to diverse dialogue, with discussion forum questions carefully crafted to stimulate conversations that include many different viewpoints. The discussion forums also promote diplomacy. Student guidelines for course discussions include respect for the diverse opinions of fellow learners. A discussion grading rubric further solidifies this point. Ashford promotes understanding for diversity with its Promoting Awareness and Wellness (PAWS) Initiative on the Ashford website.
Though similar to the national results, a small number of students indicate plans to study abroad. This difference is even greater for the senior comparison groups, where Ashford students report significantly lower likelihood to do so. The Ashford University Travel Studies program is a unique opportunity developed to foster greater appreciation for diverse cultures and ideas. Short duration (2 weeks) study-abroad trips, attached to an academic course, are offered throughout the year. By engaging in an immersive experience that complements the online learning platform, Ashford students experience a blend of learning modalities that is unique to our University and enhances their roles as global citizens.
See Diversity tab below.
Understanding of the interdependence among living beings, the environment, and humanly-created systems
In 2011, Ashford University freshmen and seniors responded with lower ratings than the national comparison group, when asked how much their experience at the University contributed to their knowledge, skills, and personal development regarding voting in local, state, or national elections. To further broaden students' perspectives, Ashford University created an "Ashford Civic Ambassadors" group of students who are selected to represent Ashford University to local, regional, and national dignitaries. In 2012, students had the opportunity to meet with State Senators and Representatives from 19 different states in Washington DC, and also in California. In 2012, Ashford University freshmen and seniors responded with higher ratings than the national comparison group.
See Community tab below.
Competence in major field
Ashford seniors report having talked about career plans with a faculty member or advisor at a significantly lower rate than the NSSE averages. Student resources, including a Career Services web page, resume builder, and job search tools are available via the Student Portal. Students and alumni are also able to access an online career services team member for live support, as needed, to request career advice and guidance or to receive coaching in areas such as resume critique, interviewing, job searching, networking, negotiating salaries, and other career development areas.
See Competence tab below.
Draw information from different fields of study to make informed decisions
Responding Ashford University students report their experience at the University has contributed to learning effectively on their own at significantly higher rates than the national comparison group. The asynchronous nature of Ashford online courses inherently requires a self-motivated student. In addition, the recently implemented Student Success Orientation course will continue to help stimulate students' awareness of their own personal learning styles, time management skills, self-motivation, and self-discipline.
Responding Ashford students indicate Ashford has contributed to their development in solving real-world problems at a higher rate than the national comparison group. Similarly, students report having learned something that changed the way they understand an issue or concept at a higher rate than the comparison group. At Ashford University, learning activities are incorporated into courses that help students construct knowledge by integrating personal experiences with new learning. Senior students report they incorporate what they learn into assignments and discussions for subsequent courses at about the same rate as the national comparison group; while freshman students report incorporating what they learn into subsequent courses at a slightly lower rate than the national average.
See Decision Making tab below.
Demonstrate ability to read and think critically and creatively
Demonstrating the ability to read and think critically and creatively are strengths of Ashford students. Responding Ashford students report a significantly higher propensity to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own views, and participate in class discussions over national NSSE averages. Similarly, students indicate they work on papers or projects that utilize ideas and information from various sources more frequently than the national average.
Ashford University students also report a greater emphasis on the use of critical thinking components within coursework when compared to national norms. These include: analyzing, synthesizing, and making value judgments with regards to ideas and information.
Ashford students report a lower need to memorize facts, ideas, or methods from their courses. This result may not necessarily be negative. Less emphasis is given to lower level cognitive skills such as memorizing because facts and figures are rapidly changing, and facts memorized today may not be relevant tomorrow. In Ashford classes, more emphasis is focused on developing higher level cognitive skills such as analyzing and synthesizing information so students can apply thought processes and patterns to solve problems across multiple scenarios.
Ashford University students have many opportunities to develop their critical thinking and creative skills as they are required to consistently contribute their views in discussion posts and assignments, and support them with valid research. All Ashford courses include assignments that promote analysis, with final course assignments and capstone courses supporting students' synthesis of information and ideas.
See Critical Thinking tab below.
Service directed at meeting the needs of others
While responding Ashford students report significantly more time spent caring for dependents living with them, they also report a lower likelihood to contribute to community service, volunteerism, and tutoring. To promote opportunities for students to participate in volunteer events, Student Affairs partnered online students and campus based students for Ashford's first annual Volunteer Day in April 2012. Ashford University has also developed a peer mentoring program to connect current Ashford University students in a peer mentoring relationship.
See Volunteerism tab below.
Skills and abilities that provide lifelong learning
Responding Ashford University students report significantly higher levels of self-understanding than national averages. Additionally, students report a higher propensity to work harder than they thought they could to meet instructor expectations, and report a higher level of contribution from the institution in developing a personal code of ethics.
All Ashford students are required to complete at least one of two introductory courses which focus on self-understanding. In addition, students receive a monthly online magazine focused on student health. Most Ashford programs include an ethics component.
Students view relationships with other students, faculty, and administrators positively, with relationships with administrative personnel and offices rated substantially higher than the national average. Ashford students indicate relatively frequent feedback from faculty on their academic performance.
Current resources available for students to build relationships include the Ashford Café, local area Student and Alumni Networking events, and the Ashford Facebook site.
Constructive relationships between students and faculty are facilitated through course communications (discussions, email), as well as an "Ask your instructor" forum. Additionally, Instructional Specialists work with instructors to ensure they are adhering to Ashford's policies to provide students timely and beneficial feedback.
See Social tab below.