Important Assessment Tool And Focus For The Institution Education Essay

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I appreciate the opportunity to participate with the Columbus State Committee on CCSSE. It's an honor to be asked. Those of you on the Committee who know me also know that I have a background in institutional effectiveness and have some years of experience analyzing and reporting on the four-year version of CCSSE (NSSE) at several universities. This is a fantastic survey and it's great that Columbus State has become involved. As you're aware, the philosophy behind CCSSE and NSSE is student engagement. For years, research has shown us that the more engaged students are on their campus, the more likely they are to persist and attain their educational goals. CCSSE is a self-report tool for students to tell the institution in which areas students are most and least engaged. Institutions that have taken proactive steps in response to their CCSSE data get the most out of it. The data are interesting, but where Columbus State can make effective changes, document them, and rerun the CCSSE a year or two later to see if there's an improvement in data, in a sense, "closes the loop" on this important assessment tool and focus for the institution.

It's important to note that there are no "good" or "bad" CCSSE results. Columbus State is a fine community college that has grown tremendously over the past decade. Like any complex organization, there will always be areas in which people (in our case, students) are well engaged and connected and there will always be areas in which students can become more engaged. Very simply, the CCSSE allows students to tell us of both these areas. In analyzing Columbus State's CCSSE data, please note that data comparisons should be made against our appropriate comparison group - "extra-large colleges." The "2010 Cohort" is all participating CCSSE institutions and while nice to have, it's a grab bag of two-year colleges - many of which are not comparable to Columbus State. However, in some of the data comparisons provided by Indiana, they compare us to the 2010 Cohort regardless. The data point of most interest to us is the "effect size" in which we see a statistically significant difference between how Columbus State students responded and how students at the other participating "extra-large colleges" responded. If the effect size is positive, that means Columbus State students responded "higher" than their peers at the comparison colleges. A negative effect size means that Columbus State students responded "lower" than their peers. The asterisk (*) means that it's a statistically significant difference - worthy of our attention.

This summary presents a brief synopsis of highest and lowest areas of student engagement for Columbus State students on the 2010 survey. It also presents some ideas for possible direction based on these results, as well as what some other two-year colleges have done with similar results.

~Areas of Highest Student Engagement at Columbus State

All Students (unless specified)


Effect Size

Used email to communicate with an instructor.


How many TOTAL credit hours have you earned at this college, not counting the courses you are currently taking this term?


Provided the financial support you need to afford your education.

0.25* (full-time only)

Worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources.

0.20* (full-time only)

Encouraging you to spend significant amounts of time studying.

0.20* (full-time only)

~The summary found in the "key findings" report, which shores up the areas of highest and lowest student engagement, includes some items that, while different from comparison colleges, were not statistically significant.

Areas of Lowest Student Engagement at Columbus State

All Students (unless specified)


Effect Size

Frequency of visits to career counseling


Frequency of times with student organizations


Satisfaction with student organizations


Participating in college-sponsored activities (organizations, campus publications, student government, intercollegiate or intramural sports, etc.)

-0.23* (full-time only)

Frequency of visits to job placement assistance

-0.20* (full-time only)

Satisfaction with career counseling

-0.30* (less than full-time only)

Importance of career counseling

-0.22* (less than full-time only)

~Worked with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments.

-0.20* (2010 Cohort)

~Tutored or taught other students (paid or voluntary)

Less than full-time (-6.3%), full-time (-4.4%) difference from 2010 Cohort

~The "key findings" report uses the "CCSSE Cohort" to scale (compare) these items. While they are qualified and worthy of attention, caution should be used placing them in the same category as Columbus State's comparison to "extra-large colleges."

Right away, what participating Columbus State students tell us, by comparison to their peers at other CCSSE schools, is that our attention should be on 1) career counseling, 2) student organizations/activities, and 3) out-of-class academic-oriented activities. It makes sense that these fall into the "active and collaborative learning" and "support for learners" benchmarks (benchmark scores under "50"). The other three benchmarks, all being over "50," are not among Columbus State's primary concern at this time. However, any decisive steps taken to address what we've learned from 2010 CCSSE in any of the five benchmark areas are good ones, should be documented, and will likely result in higher benchmarks on the 2012 CCSSE. Moreover, we are limited for analysis time and resources to address anything in CCSSE, so, again, a focus on the three areas mentioned is probably the best use of the Committee's time right now.

Lessons from Other CCSSE Institutions

The tendency at most colleges and universities is to either over or under analyze CCSSE data, discuss some of the implications, and basically not do anything with the findings. It's a lot of data and can be overwhelming. The key is to identify areas of concern (as well as progress), take steps to implement changes/adjustments, document them, and rerun the survey again the year after next. Many colleges run the CCSSE, look at the data, and end up not doing much about it. Given the price tag on the survey and tremendous effort to get a good response rate on CCSSE, this is unfortunate. Indiana is good about providing the survey in paper and online formats, as well as comparison data, but campus professionals usually have to dig for and find what kinds of things can be done in response to the survey. I've done assessment consulting for several institutions over the years in which they came right out and told me that they have CCSSE (or NSSE) data, find it interesting, but don't know what to do with it.

The good news is that the process is simple, straight forward, and, today, there are many good examples out there of what other CCSSE institutions have done in response to their data. It does take a commitment on the part of campus leadership to address student engagement and put into action programs and/or programmatic adjustments that can affect what students report on the CCSSE. For Columbus State's three areas, we can consider what other CCSSE institutions did that got similar results:

Halifax Community College in North Carolina established a male student mentoring program that uses a variety of high-touch interventions to create an on-campus support system and builds community connections.

The Lone Star College System in Texas created a learning community that links an online student success course with traditional, hybrid, and online content courses. The course presents topics related to career, college, and lifelong success in an interactive online experience that incorporates journaling, quizzes, and an online student portfolio.

Skagit Valley College in the State of Washington developed counseling-enhanced developmental learning communities to strengthen both developmental education and learning support. Counseling and teaching faculty work collaboratively to incorporate college success skills into course content.

Coastal Bend College in Texas improved graduation rates by requiring supplemental instruction (SI) - a model for tutoring - along with other interventions for students in intermediate and college algebra. Students were required to take SI two hours per week and the program also featured peer tutoring, time management training, study skills, and student orientation.

Iowa Valley Community College Grinnell in Iowa established the "Year of the Team" in which all students taking courses there would be involved in collaborative work in all of their classes. Faculty members who already incorporated group work into their courses were encouraged to expand and improve on traditional group activities. Faculty members who typically lectured were encouraged to implement an aspect of team or group work in their courses.

Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio established a program in which every person on campus is expected to actively connect with students. They do a lot of professional development for their maintenance staff and maintain a campus philosophy that many of the most helpful people on campus are not necessarily in the classroom.

Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in West Virginia created a rewards program to increase student participation in college-sponsored activities. Students receive and activity card that is stamped when they attend designated events on campus. Students earn points which they can exchange for gifts such as t-shirts, jump drives, tote bags, and portfolios.

Carolinas College of Health Sciences in North Carolina uses peer tutoring very strategically. Students are recruited based on academic achievement and communication skills. At-risk students are referred to a peer tutor through the Student Success Center after academic assessment and advising.

Olive-Harvey College in Illinois has their chemistry students participate in an out-of-class activity with the American Chemical Society. The opportunity provides a supportive environment in which students interact professionally and socially with professors and research institutions. Students are required to attend research presentations, interact with participants, and interview a professional chemist during the outing.

Seven Things to consider based on Columbus State's 2010 CCSSE Results

Columbus State faired very well on its first time out with CCSSE. Many colleges struggle to get one or two benchmarks over the "50" mark, but Columbus State got three out of five. Given where the College scored the highest, these strengths can be drawn upon and used: Students' use of technology, faculty who encourage students to spend significant amounts of time studying, and faculty who have students integrate ideas from various sources. The Committee can take an "appreciative inquiry" approach to this by replicating many of the great things that are already taking place at the College. This form of strategic planning has become increasingly popular in American higher education and allows the institution to capitalize on its strengths.

A more traditional approach is quite acceptable, as well, so long as something is done and is documented. Over the years, CCSSE has uncovered multiple attributes of colleges they refer to as "connected." The following seven are particularly relevant to Columbus State based on its 2010 CCSSE results and may be considered as a springboard for making effective adjustments:

Design experiences to ensure that all students make personal connections with other students, faculty, and staff during their earliest contact with the College and beyond.

This can involve the student organizations. While Columbus State is a commuter campus, it can be seen that other community colleges have been successful in getting students to participate more in student organizations than at Columbus State.

What incentives can be offered to students to participate? What student organizations are they interested in? How might involvement in student organizations be integrated into regular coursework? This kind of involvement/engagement is crucial and clearly Columbus State students have indicated that they aren't as involved. CCSSE results strongly suggest that this is a good area for exploration.

Systematically inquire about students' use of various technologies, including course management systems, the Internet, and social networking tools.

The power of technology is so prevalent in 2010. Cell phones, Twitter, Facebook - the more the institution can tap into the technology that students use, the more of a substantial connection can be made with them.

Systematically inquire about faculty and staff members' use of various technologies, including course management systems, the Internet, and social networking tools.

In the case of Columbus State, technology is a two-way street. The more that our faculty and staff are willing to engage with students through the use of technology, again, the more of a substantial connection can be made with them.

This may require some adjustment in thinking and philosophy, but the institutions that have done so have already seen the payoff.

Promote student connections with college services and staff by integrating services into organized courses.

This is where Columbus State can get students re-engaged with Career Services and similar offices. Some institutions that have run CCSSE and NSSE for years have proven this to be effective in getting students to be more engaged with services, as well as indicating more satisfaction with them.

Ensure that evening and online students have access to the services they need at times and in locations that fit their schedules.

This is so crucial for any commuter campus. All one needs to do is verify how many online and part-time students are enrolled to get an idea of when a good portion of the student body needs services at "irregular" times and places.

Similar to #1 of this list, some colleges and universities have had success with introducing class assignments and learning experiences that connect students to services as part of online and evening courses.

Ensure that the college's online courses consistently incorporate engagement strategies that promote student-to-student and student-to-faculty interaction.

This is true for hybrid and traditional courses, as well. For many students, their only experience with the College is the courses they are in. Rather than posters, fliers, and news bulletins, the best way to capture students for out-of-class experiences is to incorporate them as part of courses.

Build a college-wide culture of connection and caring.

This is the easiest one for Columbus State - a college that is already caring with many excellent faculty and staff. The idea here is to more formally incorporate this strength into the tapestry and fabric of what is done on a regular basis.

What can the College do to make it abundantly clear to students that they are at a special place and that the people will go out of their way to help them? What's going to fit with the Columbus State culture? While this may sound, at first, like tongue-and-cheek philosophy, it's an important area of inquiry given the nature of the CCSSE results.