Libraries and the CCSSE, Part II: Efforts to Change the CCSSE

In my last post, I provided some background about the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), and the troubling fact that libraries, librarians, and information literacy are not mentioned at all on the 80-item instrument.

I first realized the omission thanks to a 2012 post by Troy Swanson, who notes that libraries “are all about engagement.” Although Swanson was part of a Community and Junior College Section task force that lobbied CCSSE and proposed four library questions in 2009, CCSSE declined to adopt any of them.

Fired up, I joined my campus Data Team, a committee of faculty and staff charged with discussing institutional research findings and sharing them with the rest of the campus community. That first year, Data Team members were as shocked as I was to learn that the library didn’t come up once on the CCSSE. The following year, I chaired the Data Team and had the opportunity to really sink my teeth into CCSSE items, benchmarks, and findings. I wanted to understand the CCSSE well enough to lobby for change.

I had a brief ray of hope when I started attending Institutional Effectiveness Council meetings and brought the issue up, but our Director of Institutional Research soon brought me up short. He explained apologetically that adding custom items to the CCSSE is tremendously expensive and, in the end, wouldn’t tell us much anyway, because we wouldn’t be able to compare those results to other colleges’ data.

At least one community college has added their own custom questions. Glendale Community College, whom I’ve long admired for their work assessing short- and long-term student success outcomes of participating in library instruction, added three custom questions about library usage when they administered the CCSSE in 2011.

Students selected an answer from a Likert scale (Frequently, Sometimes, Rarely, Never) to answer the following items:

  • In the current semester, how often have you checked out a book from the campus library?
  • In the current semester, how often have you used the electronic resources (Online Journals, Magazines, E-Books, Ask-A-Librarian 24/7 Chat, etc.)?
  • How often do you access campus library resources (Online Journals, Magazines, E-Books, Ask-A-Librarian 24/7 Chat, etc.) from a location other than the campus library?

While these questions yield interesting descriptive data (e.g., “62.7% never checked out a book from the campus library”), the drawback of adding custom questions – besides the cost – is that without other colleges’ data, we can’t draw correlations between these items and student engagement measures. So we wouldn’t be able to tell, for example, if colleges where students use electronic library resources in greater numbers have higher measures of student engagement.

Our colleagues at the National Council for Learning Resources (NCLR), an affiliate council of the American Association of Community Colleges, have had some success proposing questions for the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), CCSSE’s counterpart at 4-year universities.

I recently spoke with Dr. David Wright, the chair of NCLR, and he shared with me the questions they wrote for NSSE’s topical module on information literacy. Students are asked about the frequency of eight actions relating to research and information-seeking behaviors, about how often instructors emphasize five different critical thinking skills relating to research, and a final question on how much the students’ experience at their institution contributed to their “knowledge, skills, and personal development in using information effectively.”

Can we do something similar with CCSSE? If CCSSE rebuffed librarians once, and adding questions is prohibitively expensive and not necessarily informative for an individual institution, what recourse do librarians have to cracking the CCSSE?

It turns out there is some good news. Last March I attended the League for Innovation in the Community College Innovations conference and spoke with Emmet Campos, CCSSE’s High-Impact Practices Project Coordinator, on the exhibits floor. Dr. Campos told me that they were planning on revamping the CCSSE in the next six months to a year, so there may be an opportunity for change soon.

When I followed up with Dr. Campos upon my return, he put me in touch with Catherine Cunningham and Katie Mitchell, CCSSE college liaisons who are working to refresh the instrument with the development of an information literacy module. Catherine described their current work in an email to me:

“[We] are currently working on a review of the literature on information literacy in order to start the process of developing a module on questions surrounding information literacy and student engagement. We are working to find questions that will point to practices that have been shown to increase student success and student engagement as it relates to information literacy, be it in the library or in the classroom. We are not sure what those questions will look like yet, but we are definitely in the process of reviewing the literature and beginning to formulate some ideas around these topics. If you have any resources you’d like to point us toward, we’re happy to review any research you might be able to point us towards.”

I immediately sent back the Glendale Community College data I linked to above, as well as ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries report. While it doesn’t seem as though we’re at the stage to propose potential questions like NCLR did for the NSSE, this is a great opportunity for librarians to get in on the ground floor and point the CCSSE researchers toward studies correlating information literacy and library use with measures of student success and student engagement.

To share your input, please consider contacting Catherine Cunningham and Katie Mitchell at and

I’m sure I’ve missed some important work other librarians are doing on this front. Have you or a colleague worked on researching or proposing questions for the CCSSE, the NSSE, or another instrument? If so, please leave a note in the comments section to let us know.

If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, feel free to email me at With interest in an information literacy module building, and the success of librarians on NCLR with adding NSSE items, this could be the year libraries finally get some representation on the CCSSE.


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