Monster Response Rates for the NSSE

by Sarah Norek

By the time you read this, OSU’s 2024 running of the NSSE (National Survey on Student Engagement) will have closed. This year, roughly 11,000 students were invited to take the survey (of first-year & senior status) from Corvallis, Ecampus and Cascades campuses. During the months of April and May, you may have spotted the NSSE across campus, as a sticker, a digital sign, or a poster (shout out to MU Creative Studio for designing such a rad NSSE graphic!).

A light blue water dinosaur with dark blue outline next to the text "NSSE National Survey of Student Engagement"

Response Rates

  • OSU-Cascades first-year & senior response rate: 40.8%
  • OSU-Cascades login rate: 50.8%
  • OSU Corvallis & Ecampus combined first-year & senior response rate: 42.3%
  • OSU Corvallis & Ecampus login rate: 50.5%

Getting students to know about the survey so they could take it was a fun multi-campus/cross-unit feat of creativity, intentionality, planning and resources.


Following, you’ll find takeaways from members of this year’s NSSE team reflecting on the experience, what was learned about the running of a survey on this scale, and curiosities that remain. If you have questions or want to talk more about any of this, please reach out!

Collaboration is key

Collaboration can look very different between people and groups. Our approach was to connect early and routinely, think and ideate together, and divvy tasks to bring those thoughts and ideas to fruition. Chris Gasser offered, “I think the collaborative approach made all the difference! We had student-centered people with various expertise working together toward a common goal of improving the response rate. It’s hard to beat that!” Nathan Moses also shared this observation: “I think it’s important to have a conversation around the skillsets that the team members have that might not be apparent in their title.” Sadly, Nathan’s TikTok as NSSE emerging from the river never panned out, but we were there for it! 😊 The team collaborated between campuses, across units, and with students, the NSSE’s target audience. Shared Nathan, “We literally worked with students on the process, assessing what would draw their attention through smaller info groups, and leaning heavily on our MU Creative Studio students to bring to life something that would appeal to them.”

Stay curious

“We started by answering the questions, ‘Should we use this survey?’ and ‘What are the benefits if we get a higher response rate?’” Then, as we thought about how we might be able to increase survey response rates this year, “rather than accepting ‘we can’t do that’ or ‘we’ve never done it that way’ we began asking ‘who needs to be here to help us accomplish that.’ That was a pretty powerful reframing that I think yielded huge benefits!” And the questions kept going: “How can we get students to open their emails?” “Where can we show up for students so they know about the survey if they’re not opening emails?” “Who could the emails come from?” “What incentive language would resonate for folks?” The team approached NSSE as a puzzle rather than a chore, and then kept asking questions.

Maximize modalities & systems

It was important to meet students where they were at, through multiple modalities. Nathan offered, “We ran this process similar to a new branding campaign in that we used email, digital art, giveaways, and promo items to create a uniform experience. It’s great to see those Nessy stickers on the back of laptops!” It is so great! And Canvas was utilized, too. Students received a series of emails (thanks to a Marketing Cloud Journey that connected with Beaver Hub), were assigned a task in Beaver Hub, encountered NSSE survey signage in common areas, and found the NSSE shell when they visited their Canvas platform. Everywhere possible, the NSSE graphic was used to brand communications to the survey and further emphasize the link between what students were seeing and receiving.

Right-size for the survey

This campaign style approach worked for this survey, but it won’t be feasible for all surveys for a number of reasons. However, Chris shared, “NSSE is making me completely rethink how we might do surveys at OSU.” Students express survey fatigue, and resources aren’t always available to support incentives or create an email journey or design graphics and giveaways. Engaging in a thought activity, though, where one imagines what a campaign might be like, could yield new or different approaches that might lead to adaptations in the delivery, which may (or may not – it’s an experiment!) have positive impacts on results. 

Now that the data is collected, there’s so much to learn! Nathan offered that, “because of the power of working between campuses was so evident, I would assume that being intentional with connecting with comparable schools might yield interesting outcomes with the data.” I (Sarah) want to know more about how students ultimately accessed the survey because, while thousands of email recipients opened the survey, and total opens were always about double the amount of unique opens, there were, comparatively, a very low rate of clicks on the survey links from the email. We may not have a way to know exactly where students were accessing the survey from, so that’s an area for further investigation, but it feels like it underscores the opportunity to explore what compels students to go to a survey and where they prefer to access it from. And then there are all the responses to the questions themselves – there’s a great data-set from this year, and much to learn from it.

Finally, this survey and its results wouldn’t be what they are without a number of folks at OSU – the students who took it, and those faculty and staff outside of the NSSE team who helped make this campaign possible. UIT provided an immense amount of support for Beaver Hub and the Marketing Cloud Journey that was built to send emails automatically and also pull folks who’d completed the survey or opted out from subsequent emails, as well as close Beaver Hub tasks. Academic Technology helped build out the Canvas option for students to be able to find and access the NSSE in their course portal – their unique link, which cut down on the number of clicks folks had to make. MU Creative Studio designed the NSSE and made posters for the start, middle, and end of the survey. And everyone who signed the emails (including President Murthy and Benny Beaver!) and the students and staff whose sticker placement on their belongings helped spread the NSSE sightings far and wide – thank you to you all! It will be exciting to share more as responses are explored, meaning is made, and likely more questions are asked.

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