Survey Results

Understanding Survey Results

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Online Reporting System Tutorials
Excluded Respondents
Respondents Included in Raw Data File
Benchmark Reports
Means and Frequency Reports
Standards for Interpreting Mean Differences
Weights and Local Student Characteristics
Student Level Breakout Definitions
Student Identifier Data

College leaders will wish to familiarize themselves with Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) findings before communicating about the results.

Online Reporting System Tutorials

The Center offers four tutorials to help member colleges navigate and understand the various features of the SENSE online reporting system.

Excluded Respondents

The total counts of respondents in an institution’s raw data file will differ from the numbers reported in the institutional reports due to intentional exclusion of certain surveys. Respondents are excluded for the following reasons:

  • The respondent did not indicate whether he or she was enrolled full-time or less than full-time at the institution.
  • The respondent did not indicate whether he or she was an entering or returning student. 
  • The survey is invalid. A survey is invalid if a respondent answered all items in number 19 as either never or four or more times.
  • The student reported his or her age as under 18.
  • The student indicated that he or she had taken the survey in a previous class or did not respond to item number 1.
  • Oversampled respondents are not included because they are selected outside of SENSE's primary sampling procedures.

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Respondents Included in Raw Data File

Raw data files contain responses from all students who completed SENSE, with the exception of invalid surveys and those completed by students under the age of 18. For the purposes of working with your data file, excluded respondents do not have a weight listed for the IWEIGHT variable. Therefore, to run analysis without excluded respondents, simply remove any observations where IWEIGHT is missing. This will ensure that the analysis only includes primary sample respondents who do not meet any of the exclusionary criteria. 

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Benchmark Reports

To assist colleges in their efforts to reach for excellence, SENSE has introduced national benchmarks of effective practice with entering students. Research shows that the more actively engaged students are early in their college experience — with college faculty and staff, with other students, and with the subject matter — the more likely they are to learn and to achieve their academic goals.

SENSE benchmarks are groups of conceptually related survey items that focus on institutional practices and student behaviors that promote student engagement—and that are positively related to student learning and persistence from the time the student has first contact with the college through the end of the third week of class. Benchmarks are used to compare each institution’s performance to that of similar institutions and with the SENSE Cohort. The six SENSE benchmarks are: early connections, high expectations and aspirations, clear academic plan and pathway, effective track to college readiness, engaged learning, and academic and social support network.

Benchmark reports consist of tables showing the college's scores on each benchmark, followed by means and frequency tables of items in each benchmark. While the benchmark scores provide an overview of how the college is doing in particular areas, colleges must be mindful that the results from the individual survey items composing each benchmark deserve examination.

How Benchmarks are Calculated

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Means and Frequency Reports

Responses to individual SENSE survey items are summarized in two formats–means and frequencies. 

Means reports present an average for each survey item that has scaled responses (e.g., strongly agree to strongly disagree) and compare average item responses between member colleges and various groups (e.g., similarly sized colleges), or between subgroups within a college (e.g., male & female).  Means are not run on dichotomous items: those with only two response options (e.g., yes/no; enrolled/not enrolled). These items are summarized in the frequency reports.

Frequency reports present the observed frequencies of occurrence (counts and percentages) of the values for each survey item, excluding demographic survey items.  These reports are useful for understanding how data are distributed across response categories. Please note that counts and percentages on frequency reports are subject to rounding.

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Standards for Interpreting Mean Differences

When interpreting mean differences across comparison groups, the Center uses a combination of two measures: (1) a t-test with a very conservative alpha level of .001 or less is used to determine if the difference between two means is significant and not likely due to chance, and (2) an effect size of .20 (absolute value) or more using Cohen’s d is used to show the magnitude of difference between the two means. If a comparison is significant at an alpha level of .001 or less and has an effect size of .20 or greater, then it is considered to be a statistically significant difference worthy of further investigation. Comparisons that meet these criteria are marked with a double-asterisk (**). For internal analysis of small groups, it may make sense for colleges to use a larger alpha level but typically not a larger effect size.

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Weights and Local Student Characteristics

Full-time students, who by definition are enrolled in more classes than less than full-time students, are more likely to be sampled. To adjust for this sampling bias, a statistical weighting procedure is applied to SENSE results when an analysis contains both full-time and less than full-time students. Weighting is uniquely calculated for each institution and is based on the most recent publicly available IPEDS enrollment figures.

Under certain circumstances, deactivating weights may be a more informative way to examine institutional SENSE data. Even the most recent IPEDS data are approximately three years old and may not always accurately represent a college’s current student population. For example, in the case that a college has experienced a significant change in enrollment characteristics during the three years prior to administering SENSE, the college’s institutional research department may want to consider whether the weights based on the IPEDS numbers are completely appropriate.

Another example of when to consider not weighting SENSE data is in the case of a college where the vast majority of its students are either full-time or less than full-time (e.g., 92% full-time). That college may want to look at the unweighted results for the majority group of students to guide campus discussions.

SENSE encourages member colleges to carefully compare the student characteristics of their SENSE sample with the characteristics of the student population from which the sample was drawn in order to evaluate the effect of a possible sampling bias.

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Student Level Breakout Definitions

Breakout reports, including benchmarks, means, and frequencies, for institutional results are available in each of the areas below. Each category is based on student responses to specific survey items.

Full-Time & Less Than Full-Time (Enrollment Status)
Item 2: “Thinking about this semester/quarter, how would you describe your enrollment at this college?” 

Developmental & Non-Developmental
The first three sub-items in Item 17: “In which of the following types of courses were you enrolled during your first semester/quarter at this college?

17a. Developmental Reading (also referred to as Basic Skills, College Prep, etc.)
17b. Developmental Writing (also referred to as Basic Skills, College Prep, etc.)
17c. Developmental Math (also referred to as Basic Skills, College Prep, etc.)

If a student responded that he or she was enrolled in one or more of these types of courses during his or her first semester/quarter at the college, he or she is classified as Developmental; otherwise, he or she is classified as Non-Developmental.

Traditional & Nontraditional-Age
Item 30: “Mark your age group.”

Respondents under age 18 are excluded from all data sets. Respondents marking age groups 18 to 19, 20 to 21, and 22 to 24 are classified as Traditional-Age and those marking age groups 25 to 29, 30 to 39, 40 to 49, 50 to 64, or 65+ are classified as Nontraditional-Age.

First-Generation & Not First-Generation
Item 38: “Who in your family has attended at least some college?” 

If the respondent indicated that either his or her mother or father had attended at least some college, then the student is classified as Not First-Generation; otherwise, he or she is classified as First-Generation.   

Male & Female (Sex)
Item 29: “Your Sex.” 

Race/Ethnicity
Item 35: “What is your racial/ethnic identification?” 

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Student Identifier Data

In accordance with Texas state law and The University of Texas at Austin’s policies, the Center does not provide student-identifier data in the institution's raw data file available for download via the SENSE online reporting system. To request a securely transmitted data file with student identifiers, please contact your SENSE liaison or liaison@cccse.org.

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