Student engagement : using the NSSE benchmarks to investigate longterm persistence

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Education, Health & Human Development


This study examined the relationship between student engagement and persistence for 362 first-time, full-time freshmen at a single institution of higher education. The enrollment status of the students was tracked through to the junior year of college. This allowed for three distinct groups of students to be identified for comparative purposes: non-persisters (students who failed to re-enroll at the institution after their freshman year); temporary persisters (students who re-enrolled in a fulltime status at the institution for their sophomore year but not for their junior year); and, longterm persisters (students who stayed enrolled at the institution in a fulltime status through to their junior year). A multinomial linear regression analysis compared the three groups across three models. The predictor variables used consist of: two measures of student engagement constructed from students' index scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement; students' ACT scores; parents' level of education; gender; and, residential status. Findings indicated that higher levels of engagement in the freshman year improve the likelihood of students persisting to the junior year regardless of the measured background characteristics. Higher index scores on the Supportive Campus Environment benchmark were found to be of central importance. These results support the notion that a focus on improving campus culture and on educational quality can help institutions improve retention rates. Also of importance, for temporary persisters the regression analysis highlighted the need for institutions to be more attentive to students' experiences of living on campus. Further research into the effects of living on campus on this group of students is recommended.




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