Libraries and the CCSSE, Part I: What is the CCSSE, and Why do We Care?

If you work at one of the 718 colleges that administered the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) in 2013, you may have noticed something missing: The library. Students answered 80 questions about their experiences with campus resources and services, but the word “library” or “librarian” didn’t show up once.

Librarians  myself included  are understandably upset about the omission. I joined my campus’ Data Team, a committee that liaises between administration and faculty to share institutional data and their implications, in order to learn more about the CCSSE and bring this issue to light on my campus.

I’ll write about the efforts of librarians to get representation on the CCSSE in my next post. For now, a little background on the CCSSE instrument: What it seeks to measure, and what, specifically, it asks students.

The CCSSE is administered every other year during the spring semester. It’s designed to measure student engagement on community college campuses.

Why student engagement? Research finds that when students are engaged with their college  with the people there and with what they’re learning   “the more likely they are to persist in their college studies and to achieve at higher levels.” So CCSSE data can help administrators and institutional researchers determine where students are making connections on campus  “sticky points,” we call them, at my college  that help them stay in classes and succeed in their coursework.

CCSSE items are grouped into five benchmarks, representing different areas of student engagement: Active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, and support for learners. A CCSSE validation study has correlated those benchmarks with various student outcomes, including GPA, retention, and persistence. For more detail, check out the validation study or take a look at this table I created for a Data Team presentation to my campus to map those correlations.

Librarians care deeply about student success, and very much want to have good data on how library resources and services engage students and contribute to their success. Not to be represented on the CCSSE is an enormous oversight that needs to be rectified.

What specifically does the CCSSE ask students? There are 80 questions total, but I’ve highlighted some of the items from the 2013 instrument that may be of particular interest to librarians, or seem to be particularly well-suited for the addition of the library.

  • Item 4: “In your experiences at this college during the current school year, about how often have you done each of the following?”

There are 21 actions under this item, and students rate each one on a Likert scale: Never, Sometimes, Often, or Very often.

Action 4d asks students how often they have “worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources.” This item seems to be the closest the CCSSE comes to asking students about research skills. I don’t think it necessarily refers to traditional research papers  the sources could be course readings provided the instructors, for example  but synthesizing information from sources into a finished product is a skill librarians teach.

This item falls under the “Student Effort” benchmark, so why not go a step further and ask how often students sought help from a library staff member on a paper or project?

An engaged student makes the effort to seek help from available resources on campus; library staff are one of them, so we should be on the CCSSE.

  • Item 12: “How much has your experience at this college contributed to your knowledge, skills, and personal development in the following areas?”

There are 15 different areas under this item, and students rate each one on a Likert scale: Very little, Some, Quite a bit, or Very much.

The areas that most closely align with the skills students develop when they use the library and research might be areas 12e (“Thinking critically and analytically”), 12g (“Using computing and information technology”), or even 12i (“Learning effectively on your own”).

Research skills or information literacy do not show up on the list at all, but this is another area where the library could be added without too much effort. CCSSE could add areas or substitute existing areas with ones such as “Evaluating information sources to determine their credibility” or “Researching a topic using specialized search tools like library catalogs or databases.”

  • Items 13.1 – 13.3: These items ask students about their use and perception of various college services:
    • Item 13.1: “How often do you use the following services at this college?” Answered on a Likert scale: Rarely/Never, Sometimes, or Often
    • Item 13.2: “How satisfied are you with the following services at this college?” Answered on a Likert scale: Not at all, Somewhat, Very
    • Item 13.3 asks, “How important are the following services to you at this college?” Answered on a Likert scale: Not at all, Somewhat, Very

There are 11 services listed in these items, and I include the complete list here to note the range of services students are asked to consider:

    • Academic advising/planning
    • Career counseling
    • Job placement assistance
    • Peer or other tutoring
    • Skill labs (writing, math, etc.)
    • Child care
    • Financial aid advising
    • Computer lab
    • Student organizations
    • Transfer credit assistance
    • Services to students with disabilities

I know libraries aren’t considered a student service in the same way counseling and advising are, but some of these services overlap with the library. My library was recently renovated according to a Learning Commons model, so all of our peer tutoring areas (two of which are a Writing Center and a Math Lab) are in the library. I’m sure some students use the library as a computer lab, as well  we probably have the largest number of computers on campus, second only to the “real” computer lab one building over. When computer labs and skill labs and tutoring centers are located in the library, where do we draw boundaries between using a lab and using the library? And do our students draw the same boundaries? What would it take to add “Reference Services” or “Library” to this list?

Not surprisingly, it takes a lot of effort and a lot of time to change the CCSSE to incorporate the library. While individual colleges can add items, that can’t be a permanent solution, for a couple of reasons.

First, it is very expensive to add items  prohibitively so, for many colleges. Second, and even more important, we can’t tell much if we’re the only college in the cohort asking the question. Without benchmarks and other colleges’ data, we can’t tell how we stack up against other institutions. If 33% of my college’s students report having consulted a reference librarian for a project or paper, I can’t know if that’s relatively more or fewer than other colleges if they’re not asking the same thing.

So if we want the CCSSE to incorporate questions about the library, we’re going to need the entire instrument to be redesigned to accommodate them. Luckily, that redesign is coming  and librarians have a chance to get involved. I’ll describe past efforts and future opportunities for input on the CCSSE in my next post.

For more information on CCSSE in the meantime, start here, or contact the institutional research office on your campus.

7 thoughts on “Libraries and the CCSSE, Part I: What is the CCSSE, and Why do We Care?

  1. Thank you for this post! It is important to keep this issue alive.

    I do not want to cause undue hope but a colleague of mine who is at CCSSE informed me that the team administering the survey is aware that libraries are not represented. I am hopeful that things will change.


  2. Thanks, Troy! I’ll be posting in the next week or so about the promising directions going forward with CCSSE. They are redesigning it and adding a module on information literacy, so librarians have the opportunity to forward exisiting research on info lit and student engagement on to the research team charged with the new module. I’m hopeful the redesign will bring some welcome changes for librarians.


  3. Pingback: Libraries and the CCSSE, Part II: Efforts to Change the CCSSE | Two-Year Talk

  4. I have heard that there may be some Information Literacy questions coming. Probably a special focus item, but it’s better than nothing…
    This might be a rumor…


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