Today’s community and technical colleges are facing unprecedented challenges. Across the country they are confronted with this conundrum: Serve more students who are increasingly arriving underprepared for college work with decreasing financial support. Nationally, nearly 50% of entering students drop out before their second year. Other students stay in school, but struggle to complete developmental sequences.
Launched in 2007, SENSE helps community and technical colleges focus on the “front door” of the college experience. Grounded in research about what works in retaining and supporting entering students, SENSE collects and analyzes data about institutional practices and student behaviors in the earliest weeks of college. These data can help colleges understand students’ critical early experiences and improve institutional practices that affect student success in the first college year.
SENSE is administered during the fourth and fifth weeks of the fall academic term to students in courses randomly selected from those most likely to enroll entering students. Students respond to the survey in class, and member colleges receive survey reports including data and analysis they can use to improve their programs and services for entering students. Specifically, SENSE data should be useful in improving course completion rates and the rate at which students persist beyond the first term of enrollment.
SENSE is a research-based tool with multiple uses:
Through the SENSE online reporting system, member colleges have the capability of generating frequency and means reports using either weighted or unweighted data.
The SENSE Benchmarks of Effective Practice with Entering Students denote areas that educational research has shown to be important to entering students’ college experience and educational outcomes. Every SENSE member college receives a standardized score for each benchmark. Each individual benchmark score is computed by averaging the scores on survey items that compose that benchmark. The standardized scores make it possible for colleges to compare their own performance across benchmarks and to compare their own performance with groups of similar colleges.
The SENSE online reporting system makes it very easy for colleges to target improvement efforts by disaggregating results to explore differences among student groups (e.g., male vs. female, developmental vs. non-developmental, full-time vs. part-time, etc.).
With multiple administrations of SENSE, colleges can document and measure institutional effectiveness over time to examine the impact of interventions aimed at improving students' earliest collegiate experiences.
Institutions may choose to use SENSE data to demonstrate accountability to the college community, as well as to accrediting agencies’ calls for institutional self-study and quality improvement strategies.
SENSE is a product and service of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, which is part of the Program for Higher Education Leadership in the Department of Educational Administration at The University of Texas at Austin. The Center staff receives expert guidance from a National Advisory Board. Baord members include representatives from key partner organizations, community college presidents, and state directors of community colleges.