Frequently Asked Questions

SENSE Frequently Asked Questions

General SENSE FAQs
SENSE Membership FAQs
SENSE Administration FAQs
SENSE Reporting FAQs

General SENSE FAQs

What is SENSE?

The Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) is an assessment tool that focuses on institutional practices and student behaviors in the earliest weeks of college. SENSE data are collected, analyzed, and reported back to participating colleges to assist in their efforts to better understand the critical early student experience and to improve practices in ways that will increase student success in the first college year. Specifically, these data are useful in improving course completion rates and rates of student persistence beyond the first term of enrollment.

Why focus on the entering student experience?

Emerging evidence suggests that if colleges can help their students succeed through the equivalent of the first semester (12-15 credit hours), the chances that those students will attain further milestones, including certificates and degrees, are greatly enhanced. By focusing energy and resources on “the front door” of the college experience, SENSE data will assist institutions in producing more successful outcomes for larger numbers of students.

What items are included on the SENSE instrument?

The SENSE instrument asks students about their experiences during the earliest weeks of college—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.

Is it possible to administer SENSE online?

No. Although member colleges have expressed interest in administering SENSE online, response rates for SENSE and pilot tests of SOSE (the Center's Survey of Online Student Engagement) suggest that the best way to obtain robust data at the community college level is through in-class, paper-and-pencil survey administration.

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SENSE Membership FAQs

How much does SENSE cost?

The Center bases its SENSE membership fees on enrollment data reported through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). A base fee chart is available for review.

May a college add additional items to the survey?

Yes. For an additional fee, a participating SENSE college may add up to two special-focus modules of up to 12 items each. However, many colleges have found that asking 5-10 well-written and appropriate questions will meet their needs while limiting the extension of survey administration time.

Modules may be chosen from the Center’s collection of standard special-focus modules. Alternatively, a college or consortium may opt to create custom special-focus modules by selecting items from the Additional Items Catalog, developing new items, or submitting a combination of both. When selecting additional items, be sure to check items against those on SENSE to avoid overlap.

NOTE: Colleges participating in a SENSE consortium may need to coordinate the addition of special-focus modules with the Center and/or the consortium leader.

What is a consortium?

A consortium is a group of three or more colleges with common interests, characteristics, or locations that wish to participate in a SENSE administration for the purpose of sharing data. Participation in SENSE consortia is free.

All SENSE member colleges that participate as part of a consortium benefit from the following:

  • the opportunity to administer special-focus modules in addition to the core survey at all colleges in the consortium (additional fees apply)
  • consortium comparison reports

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SENSE Administration FAQs

When is SENSE administered?

SENSE is administered at community and technical colleges during the fourth and fifth weeks of the fall academic term.

How is SENSE administered?

SENSE is administered as a pencil-and-paper survey to students in randomly selected courses in which first-time students typically are enrolled. The random sample is drawn from

  • all developmental reading, writing, and math courses at all levels (excluding ESL);
  • first college-level English course(s);
  • first college-level math course(s); and
  • student success, college skills, first-year experience, freshmen seminar, and/or orientation courses.

How long does it take to complete the survey?

The survey is designed to be completed in one 50-minute class period. Historically, the survey has taken students up to 45 minutes to complete; however, it is possible that the survey may take an entire class period.

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SENSE Reporting FAQs

How are SENSE results provided to member colleges?

Survey results are provided to member colleges through institutional reports and the Key Findings—an individually tailored executive summary—via the SENSE online reporting system by March 1 in the spring following the survey administration. Colleges access the SENSE online reporting system through the Members Only section of the SENSE website.

Standard reports include means and frequency reports for all entering students in the current SENSE cohort*; means and frequency reports for the college’s entering and returning students; and benchmarks, means, and frequency reports for the college’s entering students. College-specific entering student only reports include comparisons between the college, liked-sized colleges, and the SENSE cohort and are provided for all entering students and by enrollment status. Colleges that participate in consortia also receive reports in which the consortium replaces the like-sized colleges’ comparison group. Across SENSE cohorts, typically 60% of respondents are entering students.

In addition to the standard reports, colleges can request custom benchmark, means, and frequency reports with optional comparisons and breakouts on the Custom Report Requests page.

All colleges also receive access to a downloadable data file and a codebook for use in working with the data file. Additionally, college presidents receive multiple print copies of the Key Findings.

*SENSE utilizes a three-year cohort (current year of administration plus the previous two years) of participating colleges in all of its data analyses, including the computation of benchmark scores.

Who can access colleges’ SENSE Institutional Reports?

Accessing a college’s SENSE Institutional Reports requires a username and password. The Center only shares institutional usernames and passwords with the respective college president and a person at the college designated as the SENSE Institutional Contact. One of these individuals should be contacted for information about accessing the college’s data.

Will special-focus module results be included in the SENSE Institutional Reports?

Yes. Results from special-focus modules, if applicable, will be displayed in frequency reports.

Will oversample results be included in the SENSE Institutional Reports?

Oversample results are only included in the college's data file, which can be accessed via the SENSE online reporting system. Special data analysis for oversample data is available from the Center for an additional fee.

Are students’ social security numbers or other identifiers included in SENSE Institutional Reports?

No. The Center is serious about protecting student privacy; therefore, student identifiers are not included in institutional reports, nor are they stored on any web-connected server. However, institutional contacts may submit a request for encrypted data files including student-level identifiers to

How can colleges provide feedback regarding the content and format of the SENSE online reporting system?

Users may provide comments and suggestions by clicking on the Feedback tab of the SENSE online reporting system and completing the web form. Additionally, after each survey administration and data release, the Center sends a feedback survey to presidents and institutional contacts.

How can I view national SENSE data?

National findings are available on the SENSE website.

How long will colleges have access to their data on the SENSE online reporting system?

Colleges have access to the SENSE online reporting system as long as they remain active members in the rolling three-year cohort; therefore, colleges that participate at least once every three years will have continuous access to institutional reports from within the current cohort cycle. Colleges that participate in administrations outside of the current three-year cohort will have access to archived institutional data files. Member colleges should contact the Center at for information on obtaining archived institutional data files.

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Center for Community College Student Engagement
—a Service and Research Initiative—
Program in Higher Education Leadership | Department of Educational Leadership and Policy  | College of Education
The University of Texas at Austin
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