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Last modified: Monday, August 5, 2002

Higher education groups combine to help colleges improve student learning and retention

Too many college students leave college before finishing. Only about half earn a baccalaureate degree within six years. And many of those who stay in school don't learn as much as they should. Less than 15 percent spend as much time studying as faculty say is necessary -- two hours for every hour spent in class. A new project aims to reverse these troubling trends.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) at Indiana University in Bloomington, the American Association for Higher Education, Lumina Foundation for Education, and the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College are launching a project to help colleges and universities discover, document and share the programs, policies and practices that successfully engage their students in productive learning activities and lead to strong graduation rates.

Higher education leaders have known for years that higher levels of student engagement lead to more learning and higher retention rates, but until NSSE, an annual survey of college students, they had no reliable tool to measure these key outcomes, said George Kuh, Chancellor's Professor at IU and head of the NSSE project. Many of the NSSE colleges and universities have asked for assistance in transforming the results of the survey into action plans to help improve student success on their campuses. NSSE shows them where they are. They know where they want to go. This project will help institutions construct a road map to get them there.

Over the past three years, 617 four-year colleges and universities in 49 states have used the NSSE survey to get feedback from their students. NSSE's results represent more than half of the nation's full-time undergraduate students at four-year campuses.

The new project, titled "Documenting Effective Educational Practices" (DEEP), will examine the everyday workings of high-performing colleges and universities to learn what they do to promote student success. The effort is the first in a series of activities undertaken by the NSSE Institute for Effective Educational Practice to respond to the national concern about improving the success rates of undergraduate students.

Over the next two years, Project DEEP researchers will look closely at about 20 colleges and universities with better-than-predicted performance on the annual NSSE and higher-than-predicted graduation rates. Documenting and sharing those success stories will help other schools improve by giving faculty members, administrators and governing board members ideas for how to implement policies and practices that are especially powerful in helping students succeed in college. The project also will show how information about the student experience can be used to improve academic programs and support services.

Hundreds of major colleges and universities have voluntarily embraced the NSSE improvement initiative, said Martha D. Lamkin, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation for Education. "We believe this program offers a promising means of improving student success by helping a broad range of colleges across the country get better at educating and serving students," Lamkin said.

Project DEEP and the NSSE Institute are supported by a $1.3 million grant from Lumina Foundation for Education, a private, independent foundation dedicated to expanding access to higher education nationwide. Additional support for selected NSSE Institute activities is being provided by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Ind. Among the other organizations endorsing the DEEP project are the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Pew Forum on Undergraduate Learning, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Additional information about Project DEEP, the National Survey of Student Engagement, the American Association for Higher Education, Lumina Foundation for Education, the Wabash College Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, and the other organizations supporting the project is available on the Web at

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About NSSE Institute

The NSSE Institute is based at the Center for Postsecondary Research and Planning in the School of Education at Indiana University in Bloomington. Its mission is to help improve undergraduate education by documenting and disseminating the best practices of higher education institutions that most fully engage students in learning. The NSSE Institute also assists colleges and universities in enhancing student learning and increasing institutional effectiveness. (

About AAHE

The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) is a national leader in examining and disseminating pedagogical strategies that stimulate deep learning and institutional practices that provide rich educational environments. AAHE also has a long, successful track record in stimulating usable research and assessment that prompts institutional change toward enhanced student learning outcomes. (

About Lumina Foundation

Through research, innovative programs and communication initiatives, Lumina Foundation addresses issues surrounding financial access, educational retention, and degree or certificate attainment, and opportunities for under-served students. (

About the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College

With a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Center was founded in 2000 to serve as a catalyst for reshaping liberal arts education in the 21st century. Located on the Wabash College campus, the Center will explore, test and promote relevant and effective liberal arts education. (