Community College Survey of Student Engagement

K. Patricia Bouweraerts
CCSSE Survey Focus Group Image

Staff members led focus groups to gain student input concerning the CCSSE survey.

During the 2016–2017 academic year, Truckee Meadows Community College is participating for the third time in a well-regarded data measurement program that gauges students focus and satisfaction with their college.

The survey instrument is the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), a project that began in 2001 as part of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

"It's a well-established and respected project that has national reputation—the only one of its kind that not only facilitates the collection of data at your own institution but also compares and benchmarks your data against other institutions nationally," said Elena Bubnova, Associate Vice President of Research, Marketing, and Web Services. "Student and faculty companion surveys administered side-by-side provides a unique perspective in our mission to best serve students."

The most recent CCSSE survey was conducted at TMCC during the 2012–2013 academic year, and the first one was administered during 2004–2005.

Two-year institutions typically have a community-based mission and more diverse demographic than universities, therefore CCSSE was specifically developed to help community colleges measure engagement in a student population unique to their campuses. Because student engagement is one of the topmost factors in learning and staying in school, the survey measures college practices and student actions that correspond with students persisting through their courses and earning a certificate or degree.

"Yes, on-campus engagement is best practice; it highly correlates to success and degree attainment, especially for community college students," Bubnova added.

TMCC also volunteered to field test a new CCSSE, the Survey of Online Student Engagement (SOSE).

"SOSE was open to all of our online students," Bubnova said. "We piloted this project, which will eventually be used at other colleges for students in online courses."

Innovative Collaboration and Focus Groups

"One of the uniquely innovative ways that we conducted the survey was to collaborate among four College divisions—the divisions working together are Institutional Research, Marketing and Communications, Academic Affairs and Student Services and Diversity," Bubnova said. "Cheryl Scott, Director of Institutional Research is instrumental in this project—the complexity of data is huge. The most fun and exciting part of this project is that we brought together faculty, staff, the creative team, and students to review the survey data and share it with the rest of the College."

Executive Director of Retention and Support Programs Joan Steinman, PhD, attended a national conference in May where she learned that focus groups can be a highly productive activity after the CCSSE survey is administered. Focus groups of students are being held at TMCC, with each group comprising about five–six students and three faculty questioners. Tim Ill, TMCC Videographer, and Marketing and Communications staff member is videotaping the three sessions.

Staff members leading the focus groups were trained in Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols, a standard in research methods with live participants. Anthropology Instructor Joylin Namie, PhD coordinated the IRB process and was a moderator for the groups, helping to gather qualitative data.

"Students are active focus group participants, and we're definitely hearing their expressive voices and opinions this year in their responses to questions regarding the results of last year's survey," she said.

Dr. Steinman agrees.

"The CCSSE data combined with the focus group information will provide us with a more complete understanding of how our students experience TMCC—what we do well; how we are, or are not, meeting their expectations; what we can improve on to better engage students with the campus community," she added. "This fall we are talking to students who are brand new to TMCC in order to learn what their initial experiences with enrollment and in the classroom were like. In the spring we will be talking to continuing students so we can learn what factors students found helpful, and unhelpful, to their success at TMCC."

The 2017 Results

Students answered 12 multi-part questions, covering about 10 printed pages. More than 71 percent of students began their college studies at TMCC, according to CCSSE survey results.

Close to 54 percent of students, "often" or "very often" worked harder than they thought they could to meet an instructor's standards or expectations. Some other notable results included the following:

  • More than 65 percent said that they "quite a bit" or "very much" used information they read or heard in class to perform a new skill
  • Nearly 70 percent responded they "quite a bit" or "very much" thought TMCC helped them to learn effectively on their own
  • A beneficial low number was also reported—only 4.4 percent of the students reported "very often" coming to class without completing readings or assignments

"As a recently designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, we have been looking at CCSSE data with an eye for differences in our Hispanic and non-Hispanic survey respondents," Bubnova said.

The Support for Learners category is the most challenging for TMCC and many community colleges.

"The survey results pointed to student support services being used more by Hispanic students and that is good—it's important for us to know they're using these services at a higher rate than the overall population," she added.

A Survey for Faculty

The CCFSSE is a companion tool, the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement. Colleges can use this tool to measure the comparison of student responses to the faculty's perception of student engagement at their school. This survey was Web-based.

Institutional Research is in process looking into the similarities or disconnects between faculty and student perception with respect to each concept.

"An example would be: 'how many hours on average do you think TMCC students work for pay per week', with faculty saying they thought five percent of students worked as little as 0-10 hours a week," Bubnova said. "When students were asked how many hours they worked per week, 28 percent of them said they worked only 0-10 hours each week. A positive here is that students are much less pressured by work than faculty think they are, and it will be beneficial for them to know this when the survey results are presented."

Some interesting findings in the faculty survey included the following:

  • About 93 percent of full-time and part-time faculty reported that "often" or "very often" students received prompt written or oral feedback about their performance
  • More than 83 percent of faculty said that the work in their course section "quite a bit" or "very much" emphasized applying theories or concepts to practical problems or in new situations
  • Almost 93 percent of faculty said experiences in their course section "quite a bit" or "very much" contributed to students' knowledge, skills, and personal development in thinking critically and analytically

Going Forward

"The spring 2017 survey results showed that TMCC scored higher than other large colleges (headcount of 8,000–14,999) on four of the five CCSSE benchmarks," Bubnova said. "The only exception was Support for Learners, where we scored lower. This is a challenge area that we can strive to improve upon and I firmly believe with this new awareness, we have the excellent staff here to definitely meet the challenge."

CCSSE released the latest survey results to TMCC in mid-September, and Institutional Research staff are analyzing data during Fall Semester. The standard CCSSE and CCFSSE reports are posted on the TMCC website.

"Snippets from the videotaped focus groups will also be an engaging way to present the data," Bubnova said. "We'll present preliminary results during the Spring Semester Kick-Off, and then give the full presentation to the campus community in August."

For more information, please contact TMCC Institutional Research at 775-673-8240.