The first phase of the NSSE National Data Project indicated the importance of student characteristics and academic discipline mix in explaining institution-level benchmark engagement variation. The institution-level benchmark regression results demonstrated, but did not formally measure, the existence of distinct “engagement dynamics” at the general discipline level. The question raised was whether sub-institutional engagement dynamics (i.e. engagement variation by student subgroup across specific programs, and engagement variation by specific program across student subgroups) were sufficiently different to warrant programand student subgroup-specific engagement strategies.
The approach in this second phase was to move from institution-level benchmark models to a series of program-level engagement item models. Nine academic programs met specified criteria and their senior-year students were selected for the analysis. Explanatory models were constructed for each of the nine programs and within each program, for the 42 individual engagement items comprising the five benchmarks. In addition, the engagement profiles for selected student subgroups were examined across programs.
The analysis revealed substantial differences in item-based senior-year student engagement patterns across specific academic programs. In one academic program, for example, first generation students showed consistently lower SFI (student-faculty interaction) item scores relative to non-first generation students while in another program, it was their ACL (active and collaborative learning) item scores that are lower. In one program, student composition explained a very high proportion of the variation in numerous engagement items while in another, student composition explained very little. Several dimensions of these contrasting engagement profiles are discussed in detail in the report.
Since the focus for many engagement improvement strategies lies within academic programs, the findings indicate the appropriateness of a program- and student subgroup-tailored approach to engagement improvement. The figures containing the detailed model results are summarized and reorganized to provide a template for a program- and student subgroup-specific implementation focus.