Indiana University

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Last modified: Friday, June 1, 2007

NSSE names McCormick as new director

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June 4, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Alexander C. McCormick has been named director of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) effective January, 2008. Based at Indiana University, NSSE annually records the activities and experiences of undergraduates in the U.S. and Canada and what institutions do to promote student learning and personal development.

McCormick has been a Senior Scholar at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching since 1998, directing the first major revision of the Foundation's widely-used classification of colleges and universities. He also served as Carnegie's director of survey research, and represented Carnegie on NSSE's Technical Advisory Panel and on the National Advisory Board of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. Previously, he was a Senior Research Associate at MPR Associates, an independent educational research firm based in Berkeley, California.

At Stanford University, McCormick has taught courses related to research and policy on postsecondary access in the School of Education. He has also held administrative posts at Dartmouth College. McCormick's interests include institutional change and improvement, undergraduate educational outcomes, and assessment and accountability. He holds a Ph.D. in education and sociology from Stanford University, and a B.A. in French from Dartmouth College.

In announcing McCormick's appointment, Douglas Bennett, president of Earlham College and chair of the NSSE National Advisory Board, said, "Alex McCormick brings a unique combination of knowledge and experience to the national conversation about collegiate quality and we are most enthusiastic about attracting someone of his caliber to carry forward NSSE's assessment and quality improvement agenda."

McCormick said, "I am excited and honored at the opportunity to lead NSSE and its associated projects in transforming the national discourse about quality in higher education and providing useful information to colleges and universities about how to improve undergraduate education."

Lee Shulman, president of The Carnegie Foundation, credited McCormick for "fundamentally transforming" the Carnegie Classification, overseeing its development into a system far more sensitive to the roles of instruction and public service in defining the mission and character of institutions. Shulman said, "We are delighted Alex will build on the pioneering work of George Kuh and his colleagues in making NSSE the most extraordinary success story in higher education of recent years."

Kuh, who founded NSSE in 1999, will continue to direct the IU Center for Postsecondary Research in addition to teaching in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. He will also serve as a Senior Scholar with the NSSE Institute for Effective Educational Practice. Kuh said he and the NSSE staff are eagerly awaiting McCormick's arrival.

"Alex has been involved with NSSE from the beginning, and he is exceptionally well-prepared to take us to the next level," Kuh said.

McCormick will also be an associate professor in the Indiana University School of Education.

"We are delighted to have been able to recruit a nationally known scholar to lead the continuing partnership between Indiana University and NSSE," said Gerardo Gonzalez, dean of the IU School of Education. "He was the perfect candidate to build on the tradition of excellence in student engagement research established by Professor Kuh and the NSSE team."

The National Survey of Student Engagement is housed at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, School of Education, 1900 E. 10th Street, Eigenmann Hall, Suite 419, Bloomington IN 47406-7512. The NSSE Website is at

EDITORS: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at

McCormick says he's impressed with the size of the survey, but he'd like to expand the depth and usage of the NSSE results:

"It also needs to grow. There needs to be broader awareness of what NSSE has to offer. But the number of institutions that have participated in the project is really quite extraordinary. What I would still be interested in seeing, we certainly have seen and the NSSE project has documented, examples of institutions that are in fact making good use of their survey results. But we always have to be somewhat concerned about the extent to which there is a kind of ritual participation in some of these exercises because that's what's expected of a school that's concerned with quality."

McCormick says the NSSE has helped the focus on improving higher education:

"What is most exciting about them is how effectively they have managed to render more sophisticated the conversation about college quality in a climate that has really been dominated by fairly simplistic rankings approaches. And there's been a long history of efforts as assessment and improvement in higher education that have really not gone anywhere. This is really the first thing to come along in decades to actually get any traction on some of these issues."

McCormick says NSSE brings to the forefront essential questions regarding college education:

"To try to move the discussion about quality closer to issues of teaching and learning. So what are the students' experiences in class? What's the level of effort that's expected of students and what effort did they expend? And similarly, what's the degree of challenge in the classes and to what extent does coursework promote critical thinking as opposed to rote memorization and so on? Those are all, I think, really essential questions for us to be asking if we really have expectations of high quality of higher education."

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