GTF announces a grant in the amount of $150,000 to the University of Texas at Austin for their program: Starting Right – Validation of Survey of Entering Student Engagement

Nationally, community colleges are enrolling almost half of all the students in U.S. undergraduate education; however, nearly 50% of entering students drop out before their second year. Findings from 20 years of research on undergraduate education have consistently found that the more actively engaged students are with faculty, staff, other students, and with the subject matter, the more likely they are to be successful.

The Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) was created in 2007 to collect, analyze, and report information about institutional practices and student behaviors in the first few weeks of college. Through SENSE, colleges are able to gain insight into the entering student experience and to improve practices in ways that will increase student success in the first college year.

Since the survey was created, it has been refined, and the sampling, administration, data analysis, and reporting routines have been established; the missing piece, though, is a validation of the survey. The purpose of this research is to produce scientifically-based evidence that the survey data are valid and related to early student success and persistence and increase confidence that actions based on SENSE results will lead to increased success among entering students.

The major activities of this project start by partnering with 10 community and technical colleges in Texas to administer the SENSE survey in the fall 2016. The survey data will be matched with student record data at the colleges including courses attempted, course grades, and terms enrolled. The student record data will be collected for the fall term the survey was administered and the subsequent terms through the fall following the survey administration. Utilizing these combined data, Center researchers will examine the relationships between student engagement through their first few weeks in college as measured by the SENSE and near-term student outcomes including success in developmental courses, where applicable, in gatekeeper math and English courses, fall-to-spring persistence and fall-to-fall persistence.

The success of this research project will be defined as the validation of the SENSE survey. This includes discovering which benchmarks are the most valid, which are the least valid, which could be improved upon, and whether there any benchmarks that need to be discarded all together. This same process applies at the item level as well.

Through this validation, SENSE will become a trusted source of information for open, data-informed discussion of quality and performance in community colleges.