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Evidence must serve as the foundation of our practice.



Evidence must serve as the foundation of our practice.

Today higher education is asked to do more with less.  A combination of sharp national skepticism about the effectiveness of college education and a constricting budgetary climate necessitates that institutional leaders act with tremendous sensitivity when investing resources.  Internationally, educators and administrators alike report significant challenges in advocating for their programs.  Our solution: data.  When accountability and effectiveness are guiding values of our profession, evidence must serve as the foundation of our practice.

The mission of the MSL is to provide educators with the tools necessary to make smart investments that reap large returns when it comes to developing leadership capacity in our students.  The MSL offers a rich set of benefits to help you engage in evidence-based practice. Schools have used MSL results to:

  • Design new programs and services ranging from leadership minors and certification programs to reorganizing departments to better meet learning needs
  • Justify and increase human and financial resources including new professional staff positions and additional funding
  • Provide evidence of student learning for accreditation and institutional assessment purposes
  • Educate the campus community on unique learning needs and how to positively influence student development

MSL offers a number of core services to support school’s translation of results into practice and maximize the relative impact of their involvement with the study.


The MSL Difference


The MSL Difference

We appreciate that you have a variety of options for surveying your students. MSL delivers rich, meaningful data with minimum effort on your part. It is distinguished from other studies by the:

High–Quality Research Instrument & Transferability to Practice

  • MSL is one of the few theoretically grounded surveys of college student leadership. It is structured around the Social Change Model of Leadership, the “most widely used” paradigm of college student leadership development.
  • The MSL questionnaire design and methodology are evidence–based and rigorous, which position it to produce psychometrically sound and defensible data for participating campuses.
  • Participation in the MSL includes access to numerous resources (e.g., consulting, supplemental reports) to facilitate the effective application of data results to practice.

To learn more about the rigorous design of the MSL instrument, visit our design section here.

MSL and NSSE Differentiation

We frequently get asked about the differences between MSL and NSSE from schools considering participation. The table that follows explains some key differences. The reality, though, is that most schools participate in BOTH surveys, as they yield unique sets of information that can inform campus practices. In fact, we often work directly with schools to ensure the surveys complement one another either through generating entirely separate samples, data collection windows, and/ or including identifiers to link results between the two surveys.

  • Focuses on specific outcomes related to socially responsible leadership (e.g., leadership capacity, leadership efficacy, complex cognitive thinking, self-awareness, civic engagement, racial identity development, social perspective-taking)
  • Focuses on broad educational outcomes and investment in time on educationally meaningful activities
  • Studies the broad campus environment but focuses on experiences outside the classroom
  • Studies the broad campus environment but focuses on academic and classroom-based experiences

Focus on Outcomes

  • MSL is rooted in Astin’s widely used input–environment–outcome model
  • It offers a detailed analysis of the issues surrounding outcomes—instead of simply generating descriptive information
  • It distinguishes the relative contribution of inputs and environments, revealing the extent of your role in fostering leadership outcomes

Completely Web–based Format

  • This approach minimizes the administrative burden of fielding MSL
  • It conforms with best–practice guidelines for surveying students
  • MSL’s format allows students to respond at any time or place that is convenient to them—or to leave the survey at any point and resume it from their last completed answer
  • The MSL continuously evolves its survey delivery to respond to the dynamic changes in students’  online survey response patterns, while also retaining an emphasis on high-quality data.

Other Factors

  • MSL offers excellent value, providing the opportunity for multi–year participation
  • It collects broad, substantive information about student involvement in their college environment, providing data beyond the scope of leadership development
  • The optional custom questions allows MSL to precisely address your unique needs

Core Services

Core Service

Core Services

Core Service

MSL Final Report

Each school receives a comprehensive, custom-tailored final report detailing results for their campus. Your report is designed to help benchmark your students’ learning outcomes against national norms as well as up to four unique peer reference groups (e.g., Carnegie types, selectivity, size).

We provide statistical analyses of the relationships between:

  • student characteristics (e.g., race, socio-economic status, gender)

  • collegiate experiences (e.g., mentoring relationships, student involvement, perceptions of campus climate)

  • educational outcomes

Click here to see an example report from 2015*.

*NOTE:  We are constantly evolving reporting formats and some changes may be integrated  into the 2018 version and beyond.

Debriefing / Consulting Call

After receiving your Final Report, a liaison from the MSL Research team will contact you to schedule a debriefing call.  Your liaison will provide you access to a webinar to help you to read and understand the report.  They will also provide you with a set of questions to complete before your call to help guide the conversation.  Through this process, we hope to provide you with the skills necessary to interpret your data.

Putting Your Data into Practice

You will receive a set of resources to enhance your ability to apply results from the study into educational practice. This includes:

  • A PowerPoint presentation template with information about MSL to help you share your findings on campus

  • Campus data files so you can conduct additional analyses of your data

  • Access to webinars and special sessions at professional association conferences where you can meet with the study researchers, learn more about the national findings, and tap into additional resources

School Support

School Support

School Support

School Support

The MSL team offers a range of support services to assist you across all phases of the study:

Before Data Collection

Kick–off Meeting

This 60–minute conference call with your designated School Coordinator is your orientation to MSL and a forum for your questions about the study. After your school enrolls, you will receive a meeting agenda and a link to the School Guide.

School Coordinator

SoundRocket will appoint a dedicated School Coordinator to assist you in preparing for data collection. These individuals liaise with the research team, so they are equipped to answer any questions you might have.

School Coordinators welcome you to MSL with the Kick–off Meeting and offer continued support by supplying you with:

  • Answers to your questions
  • Information about MSL protocol
  • Updates as new information emerges

Assistance in making informed choices

  • Reminders about deadlines for project task submission
  • Suggestions to enhance the value of participation

School Coordinators are dedicated to understanding your needs. They will work closely with you to customize MSL for your campus.

MSL School Guide

After you enroll, you will have full access to the MSL School Guide. This comprehensive resource will walk you through all phases of the study. It features a collection of resources—such as progress reports, data, questionnaires, and templates—to streamline the work of participation. 

During Data Collection

Respondent Support

SoundRocket personnel provide comprehensive support to MSL participants. This service spares you the burden of addressing technical concerns and user issues.

Survey Progress Reporting

SoundRocket manages a portal site to that provides daily updates on response and completion rates while MSL is fielding. By monitoring this information, you may address a low response rate before the data–collection period ends. You may respond proactively to low response rates, ensuring that potential issues are recognized and resolved before they jeopardize data quality.

After Data Collection

MSL Final Report & Study Documentation

Each school receives a comprehensive, custom-tailored final report detailing results for their campus.  Your report is designed to help benchmark your students’ learning outcomes against national norms as well as up to four unique peer reference groups (e.g., Carnegie types, selectivity, size).  This is accompanied by your raw institutional data and national statistics as well as an executive summary highlighting unique institutional findings.

Debriefing Call

After receiving your Final Report, a liaison from the MSL Research team will contact you to schedule a debriefing call.  Your liaison will provide you access to a webinar to help you t read and understand the report.  They will also provide you with a set of questions to complete before your call to help guide the conversation.  Through this process, we hope to provide you with the skills necessary to interpret your data.

Benchmarking & Coalition

Benchmarking & Coalition

Benchmarking & Coalition

Benchmarking & Coalition

Internal Benchmarking

MSL provides a variety of ways to internally benchmark results from participation in the study. All of these are included in the costs of MSL with no additional fees to incorporate into your participation.

Longitudinal and/or Year to Year Cross-Sectional Comparison Panels: If your institution participated in the MSL in the past, then you may be able to include data from past years in the final report benchmark comparisons at no additional charge.  Use of previous year data will be dependent upon how comparable the data is determined to be (by the MSL research team and SoundRocket), by availability to the data, and pursuant to any licensing restrictions that may be in place around this data.  Each administration of the MSL will detail which comparison groups may be made in the reporting stage. Data will be pulled from your prior participation to create a benchmark panel to compare with results from the current administration. This is an excellent way to examine changes over time in your population.

Comparative Sample: You may also select an additional sample of participants in order to compare a sub-population of your students against those in your random sample. There are also no limitations to the size of your comparative sample. MSL will cross-reference your comparative and random samples to ensure that students are flagged who appear in both and only receive one set of invitations to participate in the study. Individuals in the comparative sample may include any population of your choice, such as students: in residence halls, student organization members, or students in a particular academic major or minor.

Inclusion of Identifying Information: Schools are welcome to insert student identification numbers as one of their additional variables in the sample file. This may be useful for connecting MSL results to other student information or survey data (e.g., NSSE, CIRP). The MSL will allow this type of information to be included only if the institution’s IRB approves it as it changes the protocols related to confidentiality. This will require some adapting of IRB application materials, which the MSL team will provide for you. Note that schools wishing to pursue this are encouraged to enroll and begin the IRB application process early as this may require additional time.

External Benchmarking

MSL provides a context for your findings. It compares your institution against others while using the same instrument. You will have the ability to select from a wide range of benchmark comparison groups related to Carnegie type, selectivity, size, etc.

Additionally, there are no additional fees should a school wish to compare against a set of peer institutions already participating in the study. We are happy to create a custom comparison group for you of at least five schools.


Three or more MSL schools may collaborate and share data as a coalition. These coalitions generally have similar institutional characteristics or research interests. Possible coalitions that have participated in the past include:

  • Canadian schools

  • Catholic schools

  • City University of New York (CUNY)

  • Community colleges

  • STEM schools

  • Big Ten schools

  • Schools interested in leadership and academic performance

  • Schools interested in leadership and health behaviors

To explore these research interests, coalitions are allotted an additional 10 custom questions and receive a custom Coalition Report.  Additional advanced Coalition services are available.

Use & Application Examples

Use & Application Examples

Use & Application Examples

Use & Application Examples

The impact of participation in the MSL can be seen at multiple levels of the institution.  Below are examples illustrating just some of the ways in which institutions have put MSL data and results into action:

Programmatic Level

Use of MSL data can influence a range of programmatic areas ranging from leadership and community service programs to multicultural student affairs.  Past applications include:

Development or Reassessment of Programs/Services

  • North Carolina State University – Data stimulated and guided the redesign of leadership programs to refocus on a more complex and tiered leadership education program.
  • Lehigh University – Data used to inform leadership education programs with specific attention paid to tracking and evaluating student learning over multiple years of involvement in educational programs.
  • University of Nevada Las Vegas – Data were analyzed to examine student perceptions of campus climate by racial group membership.  Results were used to identify programmatic areas that supported students’ positive perceptions as well as gaps in educational programming contributing to negative perceptions of campus climate.

Increase of Human and Financial Resources

  • University of Minnesota – Data provided key evidence supporting two grant proposals that were awarded to fund a new leadership certification program as well as a first-year student leadership institute.
  • Texas A&M University – Data used to acquire two new professional staff positions focused on leadership education and student organization advising/mentoring.
  • University of Tampa – Data used to justify additional programmatic funding as well as a new professional staff line supporting leadership and civic engagement activities.

Departmental/Divisional Level

Use of MSL data can influence the direction of academic, student affairs, and student services units based on analysis of student perceptions, engagement with the collegiate environment, and/or educational outcome achievement.  Past applications include:

Evidence of Student Learning

  • University of Toronto – Data used by the School of Engineering to track student involvement, mentoring experiences, and educational outcomes.

Development or Reassessment of Programs/Services

  • Rollins College – Data used by the provost’s office to inform the curriculum review process and infuse leadership education as an interdisciplinary learning outcome across all academic areas.
  • Oregon State University – Data informed an organization restructuring process in the division of student affairs leading to the creation of a new departmental unit charged with leadership education and community services as well as new staffing lines.
  • Emory University – After a comprehensive initiative to create a common understanding of leadership on campus, institutional data from the 2011 MSL will be used as a benchmark for data to be collected in the 2015 MSL.  Data will be analyzed for differences that can be attributed to the new, intentional language and direction.

Benchmarking with Educational Peers

  • DePaul University – Data inform the work of the division of student affairs research and assessment office with particular attention paid to tracking student trends related to male students of color and their engagement levels on campus.
  • Catholic Schools Coalition – In 2012 and 2015, a group of 25 Catholic schools partnered in the project to collect data adding an additional set of 20 common questions related to institutional mission and identity.  These schools then shared data so that reports offered institutional comparisons across learning outcomes and educational experiences.

Institutional Level

Use of MSL data can influence institutional accreditation processes as well as support school specific initiatives.  Past applications include:

Evidence of Student Learning

  • Marquette University – Data are used to report progress on educational outcomes identified in the institutional accreditation process.
  • Florida State University – Data serve as a source of evidence for the accreditation process which lists leadership development as a core outcome in the institution’s quality enhancement plan.

Advancement of Institutional Priorities

  • Metropolitan State College of Denver – Data are being used to support the institution’s application for designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
  • University of Maryland – Data support a presidential initiative to increase specific educational opportunities for undergraduates on campus (e.g., study abroad, research with faculty members, internship experiences, mentoring relationships).  Data are used to track trends across these opportunities as well as examine rates of student access.