Independent Colleges and Student Engagement

Student Engagement report cover

​Critics of traditional, residential, liberal arts colleges and universities contend that this form of higher education is outmoded, too costly, and no longer educationally relevant for 21st century students. Economies of scale, large classes taught by contingent faculty members and graduate students, and increasing reliance on technology and online learning, so the argument goes, are the only cost-effective means of meeting the educational challenges of the future. Building on a half century of research, this report draws recent evidence from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to demonstrate that students at private colleges and universities are engaged in their education much more than students at public institutions. Areas of distinction in the private institution undergraduate experience include a more academically challenging education, better relations with faculty members, more substantial interactions with others on campus, and the consistent perception that students have learned and grown more, in comparison with public institutions.

This report, prepared for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), draws on the most current NSSE data, from 2013 and 2014, that include more than 540,000 first-year and senior students enrolled at more than 900 four-year colleges and universities. Findings are presented with comparisons across four institutional types: (1) baccalaureate and master’s level private institutions (CIC’s predominant membership profile), (2) baccalaureate and master’s level public institutions, (3) doctoral private institutions, and (4) doctoral public institutions. Included in the analysis are measures from the updated NSSE that includes ten new Engagement Indicators, six High-Impact Practices, the Perceived Gains scale, and a Satisfaction scale.

​Council of Independent Colleges
By Robert M. Gonyea and Jillian Kinzie
June 2015

Academic Experience