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Davis Jenkins

Davis Jenkins
Senior Research Scholar
Community College Research Center
Teachers College, Columbia University

“The Center’s video clips allow us to better understand students’ experience in their own words. As such, they provide insight into how profoundly college practices affect students’ lives—both positively and negatively. I believe this insight, together with the emotional impact of hearing directly from students, is more likely than any other data or evidence to spur us as educators to leave behind our predilections and prejudices about why students do and do not succeed—and to change college practice in ways that enrich learning and support for students in and outside the classroom.”

The Center’s Mission

The Center for Community College Student Engagement, a service and research initiative of the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, provides important information about effective educational practice in community colleges. The Center assists institutions and other stakeholders in using data to inform discussions that can lead to increased student success.

Surveys & Related Projects

The Center offers participation in a collection of national surveys:

  • Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE)
  • Companion surveys:
  • Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCFSSE)
  • Survey of Online Student Engagement (SOSE)
  • Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE)

The Center also operates several related initiatives.

Quick Links

Here are some other links you might find helpful:

To learn more about the Center, please feel free to give us a call at 512-471-6807.

Tribal Colleges: Making culture and language interesting Guided Pathways - Component Three: Stay on the Path Mindset: Understanding relevance of coursework improves confidence

See more video clips on the Center’s YouTube Channel.

CCSSE Registration


Center Releases Latest Issue of Re-Engaging Data

Cover of newsletter

In Re-Engaging Data, the Center shares additional findings from national and special report data.

This issue features a tribal college using its Center data to increase student success.


Center Releases New Report on Academic Mindset and Student Success

Report cover for Center 
            Releases New Report on Academic Mindset and Student Success

With survey findings collected from over 80,000 community college students across 159 institutions, A Mind at Work: Maximizing the Relationship Between Mindset and Student Success indicates that students who have more productive academic mindsets are more engaged and have higher GPAs.


Academic mindset encompasses students’ beliefs about the ways learning and intelligence work. Almost 70% of students agreed that they could change their intelligence a lot, and 82% agreed that they were confident they could keep up with their coursework. While the majority of students are confident in some areas of academic mindset, student responses indicating a nonproductive mindset tended to cluster in two areas: testing and math.

The report’s supporting materials include discussion questions for colleges, a tool that connects Center survey items with the four components of academic mindset, focus group guides, and video clips from focus groups that the Center conducted with students and faculty about academic mindset.

Watch a webinar on A Mind at Work facilitated by Center Executive Director Evelyn Waiwaiole and Rachel Beattie, the director of productive persistence for Carnegie Math Pathways at WestEd.



Center Releases New Report on Student Experiences at Tribal Colleges

Report cover for Preserving Culture and Planning for the Future: An Exploration of Student 
            Experiences at Tribal Colleges

Preserving Culture and Planning for the Future: An Exploration of Student Experiences at Tribal Colleges aims to share a narrative of the students who attend these unique institutions.

Over 1,000 students across 25 tribal colleges responded to the 2017 Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), which collects information from students about their experiences from the time they decide to enroll in college through the third week of their first term. Over 2,400 students across 22 tribal colleges responded to the 2018 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which gathers information from students in the spring term about their experiences throughout the academic year.


The report’s supporting materials include focus group guides and video clips from focus groups that the Center conducted with tribal college students, faculty, and staff.

Executive Director Evelyn Waiwaiole and Assistant Director of College Relations Linda García hosted a webinar on Preserving Culture and Planning for the Future. View the webinar here.



Check Out the Center’s Spring E-News Update: Engagement Matters

The Center publishes Engagement Matters twice a year as a venue for providing project updates, previewing survey and focus group findings, and highlighting member college stories.

This issue features examples of member colleges sharing their data internally and externally, highlights the experience of a member college team that attended a Center Student Success Institute, and explains exclusionary criteria the Center’s research team uses when analyzing data.


A Conversation With William Law, Center National Advisory Board Chair

William Law, former president of St. Petersburg College (FL) and new Center National Advisory Board Chair, recently shared the following in a conversation with Center Executive Director Evelyn Waiwaiole.

Bill Law and Evelyn Waiwaiole


Will you tell us about your background?

I started my community college career as Vice President for Institutional Planning at St. Petersburg Junior College (FL) in January of 1981. In that role, I had the good fortune to be part of the impact of the microcomputer revolution on the classroom experience and the student learning process. I watched the evolution of classroom teaching, textbooks, out-of-class learning, and faculty professional development as the technology became faster, easier to use, and more ubiquitous in college learning.

In late spring of 1988, I was selected as president of Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois, where I replaced the founding president who had served for more than 20 years. By this time, accreditation agencies had begun to move beyond “input” metrics to the range of performance metrics, data, and information that had not been previously collected, organized, and displayed. At the same time, the focus of accreditation had shifted to include an institutional self-assessment plan by which the college had to document the means it employed to collect, share, and develop plans to address the impacts of its activities, rather than the comparative rank of input the amount of resources put into each program.

After four years in Illinois, I was selected to be the founding president of Montgomery College (now Lonestar Montgomery) in suburban Houston. I had the freedom to design the facilities at the new college and to organize the academic and student support programs. The single most impactful learning trend at the time was the creation of learning centers on each campus where students could go when not in class to access more powerful and focused electronic learning, while at the same time be given immediate access to learning support and tutors to assist them in their study efforts.

At Montgomery College, we had our first experience with the use of CCSSE—the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. Indeed, Montgomery College served as a pilot site to field test the survey instrument and to refine its administration process. In 2002, I returned to Tallahassee (I had gotten my graduate degrees from Florida State University) to become the president of Tallahassee Community College (TCC). At TCC, not a great deal of work had been done in the movement toward assessing student learning for all students. The college had a great deal of data on student demographics, but very little data beyond anecdotes of the effectiveness of teaching and the impact on students. (I might add that the anecdotal information was impressive—TCC students went on to the university system and did quite well!) By now, the higher education industry was in full disruption trying to balance the impacts of evolved accreditation, greater diversity, higher public accountability, and stunning changes in the use of technology both in and out of classes. The challenges to convey and sort out all of the interactions of these observable trends caused a great deal of anxiety for the classroom instructors and all who were responsible for supporting students on a day-to-day basis.

My final professional step came in June of 2010 when I was selected as the president of St. Petersburg College, among the very first community colleges in America to add baccalaureate education to a long history of associate and certificate programs. Assessing the progress of students as they moved through the institution became a paramount challenge for the college. Trying to identify documentable patterns of success/failure, managing the ever-tightening financial aid support, and—most importantly—maintaining and expanding the faculty’s control in the classroom setting proved high order challenges to academic leaders and to college trustees.

How did the institutions you led use Center data?

My graduate school background was in the field of Institutional Research, so I had a natural affinity for clear, concise, and reliable data. Before committing to pilot and use the CCSSE survey, I reviewed each of the questions contained in the form to be certain that the responses would be useful, understandable, and supportable from other research. I knew that we would have in-depth discussions about why an item was included in the survey, how the responses would be portrayed, and what differences in student learning responses would imply, both individually and collectively. The CCSSE survey questions were meticulously researched from other student performance studies and were clearly able to withstand any contentions of bias, reliability, or accuracy. This seemed vital if we were to have faculty support the use of the survey and if we were going to use the results to advise budget decisions and college policy.

At three institutions I led, the process was quite similar. Faculty leadership were engaged with assessing how best to assemble factual, reliable data on student progress through the institution. We asked faculty to examine the scope and nature of the CCSSE survey and to determine if the results could give strong guidance to strengthening areas where students seemed to be having the most difficult times. Prior to the administration of the survey, I would write a letter to each of the faculty who were being asked to give up a class period to allow for the administration of the survey. I would emphasize to them that the CCSSE survey was the only commitment I would seek that took away from their classroom time; the need to better understand how our students made progress through the institution was paramount. To their collective credit, no faculty ever complained or declined to participate!

At all levels, and at all times, we had a complete commitment to transparency in sharing the results of the survey with all members of the college. In fairness, these three institutions (Montgomery College, Tallahassee Community College, and St. Petersburg College) were strong performers in student achievement, a fact that mitigated the sense that the CCSSE survey would be used for manipulative or heavy-handed purposes.

Annual survey results would be distributed as soon as they were received, and leadership discussions—both formal and informal—would ensue on what we perceived the data was “telling us.” The results would be summarized and presented at a monthly meeting of the college’s board with early recommendations of how the results could be included in the next round of institutional planning and budgets. Addressing the findings of the CCSSE survey became the primary (non-legislative) driver of budget decisions.

What benefits do you see for colleges utilizing Center data for institutional improvement?

The commitment of an institution to use CCSSE survey data as a key element in institutional planning and budgeting provides an institution with “more lift, less drag.” The results are unassailable—proven research-based questions, tightly structured administration, and hundreds of other similar institutions in the findings. Individual faculty and counselors are not identified or singled out as particularly strong or particularly weak. The nature of the survey questions provides impetus to early strategies that can be adopted by faculty—individually and collectively—to address and strengthen the experience of students as they enter, proceed through, and exit the institution.

CCSSE also provides a means for a college to compare its results with other similar colleges of their own choosing. Participating colleges are not “rank ordered” to determine who is the best (or the worst!). Colleges can prioritize their internal energies to address areas of need or to change the experiences of students as evidenced in the survey results. Programs and services do not feel singled out, but rather feel supported in the ongoing challenges to improve the student experience.

The most common response to the survey results is one of “I thought that was the case.” Most of the CCSSE findings are not a surprise to the institutional participants. The presentation of the findings does, however, impel strong discussion about how to address the evidenced needs. Rarely do the results fall to only one department or program. One of the biggest benefits of using CCSSE is that the student support professionals find common ground with the instructional faculty in their mutual efforts to guide students to successful completion of their programs.



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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