The State of Spartan Health

The State of Spartan Health is a set of data compiled from a survey designed to gauge the health and health behaviors of college students, with a focus on how those factors might impact their academic performance. The purpose is to enable university administrators to plan efforts to help students thrive, to evaluate past health-messaging efforts and interventions, and to inform students.

Michigan State University Student Health Services participates in the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey through our membership in the American College Health Association (ACHA). The NCHA was first conducted at MSU in the year 2000 and has been repeated every two years since then - in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, and the most recent survey was conducted in 2020.

The Office for Survey Research (OSR), through the MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) manages the NCHA survey. The office manages the sampling, respondent contacts, follow-ups, incentives, data weighting, analysis, and reporting.

  • About the State of Spartan Health Survey
    The questionnaire covers a diverse set of health-related topics including perceived health status, sexual behaviors and beliefs, alcohol-tobacco-drug behavior and beliefs, injury prevention, disease prevention and screening, victimization, exercise and rest, emotional and mental health, incidents of disease or injury, incidents of stressors, sources and credibility of health information, and background questions. 

    The data collected from the NCHA survey is meant to help MSU faculty & staff, students, and parents better understand health trends, identify emerging problems, report behavioral norms, identify risk factors to safety and academic performance, prioritize student health care issues, allocate resources for programming, design new programs, and evaluate current strategies.

    The data is also used for our Social Norms campaign on campus, which is commonly referred to as “The Duck Campaign.” The campaign is designed to promote a better understanding of the true norms surrounding alcohol use by the MSU student population and challenges the prevailing myths and misperceptions which often lead to higher risk consumption.

    For more information about the NCHA survey, see our FAQ section. For an overview of data collected in different topic areas on the NCHA Survey, please see the Fact Sheets linked on the left side of this page. Click here to access the full NCHA 2018 Report.

Select a link below to access an informative handout covering topics that include:

  • Perceived health status,
  • Sexual behaviors and beliefs,
  • Alcohol-tobacco-drug behavior and beliefs,
  • Injury prevention,
  • Disease prevention and screening,
  • Victimization,
  • Exercise and rest,
  • Emotional and mental health,
  • Incidents of disease or injury, and
  • Incidents of stressors
  • Academic Impediments

    Click on the image to open the PDF outlining the top impediments to academic performance, steps to take, and available resources.

     

  • Alcohol

    Click on the image to learn what MSU students say and do about alcohol use and academic performance, why it matters, and available resources.

  • Emotional Wellness

    Click on the image to focus on emotional wellness at MSU, why it matters, steps to take, and available resources.

  • Fitness & Nutrition

    Click on the image to learn what MSU students say and do about fitness and nutrition as well as available resources and steps for maximizing health.

  • Sexual Health

    Click on image to learn what MSU students say and do about sexual wellness, why it matters, and available resources.

  • Sleep

    Click on image to learn what MSU students say and do about sleep, why it matters and related resources.

  • Top Ten Wellness Matters

    The MSU Student Health & Wellness “Top Ten Wellness Matters for Personal and Academic Success” brochure contains information about the top ten health and wellness issues that MSU students may face when they come to campus. It is designed to help incoming freshmen become familiar with these issues and their prevalence at MSU, why they matter, and how to best prepare to manage them. The brochure is mailed to all incoming domestic freshmen each August.

    To review the brochure, please click below:

    Top Ten Wellness Matters Brochure

  • NCHA FAQ

    Frequently Asked Questions about the NCHA Survey

    What is NCHA?

    Who uses NCHA?

    Does timing and sampling methodology make a difference?

    How long has NCHA been conducted at MSU?

    What questions are on the survey?

    How are the questions administered?

    Who manages the survey on campus? Where is NCHA analyzed?

    Shouldn't I be skeptical about this research?

    Who is chosen to take the survey?

    What is the sample size?

    What is the margin of sampling error? What does that mean?

    What is the response rate for NCHA? If it’s low, won’t this be biased?

    I am sure students lie on the survey, how is that controlled?

    Is the survey anonymous?

    What does it mean to have ‘weighted data’?

    Where can I find the full report?

    How does the data get used at MSU?


    What is NCHA?

    NCHA is the National College Health Assessment Survey, conducted through Olin Student Health Center’s membership in the American College Health Association (ACHA).

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    Who uses NCHA?

    Nearly 500 campuses nationwide administer NCHA and about 150 campuses administer the survey annually.

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    Does the timing and sampling methodology make a difference?

    Yes, the gold standard for methodology is probability samples (what we use) on campus. Timing is also crucial to administering the survey. Data indicates that students’ behaviors differ at various points over the academic year. To control for variations, we keep the timing consistent by administering the survey over the same time period every two years. This is the reason we don’t compare our results to other campuses; while our methodology and timing are consistently done, other universities do not control for methodology and timing.

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    How long has NCHA been conducted at MSU?

    The NCHA was first conducted at MSU in 2000 and has been repeated every two years since then (2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016).

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    What questions are on the survey?

    The questionnaire covers a diverse set of health-related topics including perceived health status, sexual behaviors and beliefs, alcohol-tobacco-drug behavior and beliefs, injury prevention, disease prevention and screening, victimization, exercise and rest, emotional and mental health, incidents of disease or injury, incidents of stressors, sources and credibility of health information, and background questions.

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    How are the questions administered?

    A pre-notification letter is initially sent to students, encouraging them to participate in the survey. A day or so later, those same students are sent an email invitation by ACHA containing a web-link to the survey. Those who don’t respond to the initial invitation are given a reminder 4-6 days later. One or two additional follow-up reminders are sent subsequently to any who still have not responded.

    The survey is currently administered as a web survey. MSU uses the ACHA-NCHA II version of the survey; this is a revised version with additional questions to monitor a variety of health constructs. The earlier version of the survey (ACHA-NCHA I) was administered from 2000-2008 and was converted to a web survey in 2006.

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    Who manages the survey on campus? Where is NCHA analyzed?

    The Office for Survey Research (OSR), through the MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) manages NCHA. The office manages the sampling, respondent contacts, follow-ups, and incentives. Data weighting, analysis, and reporting are completed by Dr. Larry Hembroff, MSU Senior Research Specialist Emeritus and former Director of the Office for Survey Research. Click here to access the full NCHA 2018 Report.
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    Shouldn’t I be skeptical about this research?

    Healthy skepticism is prudent for any research. This is precisely why every scientific peer-reviewed journal requires that the authors explain the procedure (samples, data, analyzing, etc.) so the research/study can be evaluated and there are methods to use for reliability.

    If the methodology of the survey isn’t flawed or is reasonably done, it is possible that even if we have random samples for the survey, there could be a particular sample that is an abnormality. However, the probability of this is low, and hence why confidence intervals exist. We have conducted 9 surveys over a 17 year period and they continue to produce very similar results on questions across time, which is reason to believe these surveys are tapping into truth and real facts amongst our student population.

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    Who is chosen to take the survey?

    A stratified random sample of 5,000 MSU undergraduates and 1,500 MSU graduate/professional students were sent a pre-notification letter in 2016 and encouraged to participate. One week later, the same sample was sent an e-mail invitation by ACHA containing a web-link to the survey.

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    What is the sample size?

    A total of 1,003 weighted cases were used for the NCHA in 2016. The sample size has varied across years, ranging from 773 to 1,700 respondents.

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    What is the margin of sampling error? What does that mean?

    The margin of sampling error for 2016 was +/- 3.1%. This is the probable range of possible discrepancies that could exist between the sample statistics (the MSU students that responded to NCHA) and the corresponding population (all MSU students).

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    What is the response rate for NCHA? If it’s low, won’t this be biased?

    The response rate for NCHA in 2016 was 16%. Similar to the sample size, the response rate varies from year to year. If there is a low response rate, the results won’t necessarily be biased. If those who answer are systematically different than those who don’t answer, then it would be biased. Alternatively, if those who are able to respond and do are similar to others who don’t respond—it won’t be biased at all.

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    I am sure students lie on the survey, how is that controlled?

    We have administered the NCHA at MSU 9 times over a 17 year period. The questions have remained the same and the results for a wide variety of health issues (e.g., drug use, exercise, weight/height, sexual activity, various illnesses, vaccinations, etc.) continue to produce remarkably similar results from survey to survey. This is especially true on issues where we know of no outside influences (e.g., change in university policy, targeted campaigns to promote vaccines or reduce drinking, economic downturns affecting healthcare access/costs, increased internet access, epidemics, etc.). Where such outside influences are known to be operating, the pattern of change in the student responses corresponds to the changes those influences would be expected to produce.

    If the results are consistent with what we (researchers) expected, is this because these outside influences really did influence the students OR, because the students are just trying to fool us by giving answers they think we want rather than what is really true? If they were lying to tell us what we wanted to find, how did they decide how many of them should lie to produce the appropriate false result we were looking for and not so many as to produce a wild and completely incredible false result? Such a conspiracy would have to be very great and broad-based (and very publicly known) since, because of the random sampling done among all students, very few of the respondents within each survey could possibly know each other to plan such a conspiracy behind closed doors. Further, the conspiracy would have to reach across years and be able to withstand the changeover of the student population at least twice in a decade.

    There are quite important potential sources of error on the part of respondents in answering survey questions. The errors can be the result of question misinterpretation, failure to keep track of the time period being referred to, memory and recall errors, tabulation errors (e.g., lost count of the number of drinks, counted 16 oz. drinks as one drink (12 oz.) rather than 1.3 drinks), etc., but this is quite different from saying that the respondents lie. If the errors made on a question across all the various respondents are as much over-reports as underreports (i.e., the errors are random), then the overall result will still be accurate in the aggregate as a description of the population.

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    Is the survey anonymous?

    Yes—at the front end of conducting the survey, we know who was in the sample because they were invited to participate and we are able to see whether or not they responded. However, once we have the data set, there is no identifier that links responses to any specific individual.

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    What does it mean to have ‘weighted data’?

    Because some segments of the student body are somewhat over- or under-represented among respondents, the data set has been weighted based on gender, race/ethnicity, and academic class status so that the final weighted sample more nearly matches and is more representative of the proportions of these groups in the MSU student body as a whole.

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    Where can I find the full report?

    Click here to access the full NCHA 2018 Report

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    How does the data get used at MSU?

    The data collected from the NCHA survey is meant to help MSU, parents, and students better understand health trends, identify emerging problems, report behavioral norms, identify risk factors to safety and academic performance, prioritize student health care issues, allocate resources for programming, design new programs, and evaluate current strategies.

    The data is also used for our Social Norms campaign on campus, commonly known as “The Ducks.” The campaign promotes a better understanding of alcohol use by the MSU student population and challenges the prevailing myths and misperceptions which often lead to higher risk consumption.

    back to top