The research findings are unequivocal. Student learning, persistence, and attainment in college are strongly associated with student engagement. The more actively engaged students are—with college faculty and staff, with other students, with the subject matter they are studying—the more likely they are to persist in their college studies and to achieve at higher levels. This connection has been emphasized in a number of major studies and reports on the undergraduate experience, including the following:
- Involvement in Learning, a 1984 report sponsored by the National Institute of Education, clearly states "two fundamental principles about the conditions of educational excellence everywhere."
- The amount of student learning and personal development associated with any educational program is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in that program.
- The effectiveness of any educational policy or practice is directly related to the capacity of that policy or practice to increase student involvement in learning (p. 19).
- In "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education" (1987), Chickering and Gamson provide this oft-quoted guidance:
Good practice in undergraduate education
- Encourages student-faculty contact
- Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
- Encourages active learning
- Gives prompt feedback
- Emphasizes time on task
- Communicates high expectations
- Respects diverse talents and ways of knowing
- In How College Affects Students (1991), Pascarella and Terenzini affirm from their examination of 20 years of research that "students who are actively involved in both academic and out-of-class activities gain more from the college experience than those who are not so involved."
- In Leaving College (1993), Tinto summarizes available evidence:
Simply put, the same forces of contact and involvement that influence persistence also appear to shape student learning. Though the research is far from complete, it is apparent that the more students are involved in the social and intellectual life of a college, the more frequently they make contact with faculty and other students about learning issues, especially outside the class, the more students are likely to learn (p. 69).
The Center Connection
It is this connection of student engagement to both learning and retention that provides the conceptual and empirical base for the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), and the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCFSSE). All of the survey instruments are "specifically designed to assess the extent to which students are engaged in empirically derived good educational practices and what they gain from their college experience" (Kuh, 2001, p. 2).
Additional evidence of the connections between various aspects of student engagement and an array of desired student outcomes was provided through a major validation study of CCSSE. The Center also maintains annotated bibliographies online for CCSSE, SENSE, and CCFSSE that provide information about the literature supporting the survey items.
The CCSSE includes items calling for students to report the frequency with which they engage in a number of activities representing good educational practice (e.g., participating in classroom discussions, interacting with faculty in and out of class, etc.). Respondents also indicate whether they have participated in or plan to take advantage of a variety of learning opportunities, including college orientation programs, internships or clinical placements, developmental education, and organized learning communities, for example. Students then are asked to report the number of hours spent each week on activities that include preparation for class, participation in extracurricular activities, work, parenting, and so on.
Other items assess the frequency with which students use the academic and student support services provided by the college, as well as their ratings of the importance of such services and their satisfaction with services received. Respondents also indicate through responses to several items the level of academic challenge they experience at their college—for example, the amount of reading and writing they have done during the current school year, the difficulty of their examinations, and the kinds of mental activities (e.g., memorizing facts vs. analysis or application) that their coursework requires. And students are asked to report their perceptions regarding the quality of relationships on campus and the extent to which they receive needed support from the college, as well as from family and friends.
Through additional survey items, students estimate the extent to which their experience at the college has contributed to their development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions in a number of areas such as acquiring a broad general education, communication, working effectively with others, and so on. They also respond to direct questions about their overall satisfaction with their educational experience at the college.
The Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) helps community and technical colleges focus on the "front door" of the college experience. The survey is administered during the fourth and fifth weeks of the fall academic term in courses in which entering students are more likely to enroll. SENSE data can be useful in improving course completion rates and the rate at which students persist beyond the first term of enrollment.
The SENSE instrument includes items that elicit information from students about their first impressions of the college; intake processes such as admissions, registration, assessment, placement, orientation, and financial aid; how they spend their time as they begin college; how they assess their earliest relationships and interactions with instructors, advisors, and other students; what kinds of work they are challenged to do; how the college supports their learning in the first few weeks; and so on.
Like CCSSE, SENSE also includes items that assess the frequency with which students engage in activities representing good educational practice, such as asking questions in class and utilizing various support services.
Additionally, colleges that participate in SENSE have the option of administering Special-Focus Modules, which are sets of survey items focused on topics correlated with entering student success (e.g., academic advising, financial assistance, and student success courses, etc.).