Why Terra State cares about student engagement

When we hear about successful companies, events and even schools, generally the message is “Company X is successful because their customers are satisfied.” While satisfaction is an important factor in the success of a higher education institution, it’s not the only one.

Engagement plays a major role in success too. In fact, many educational studies show that an engaged student is more likely to be a successful student. But what exactly is student engagement and how we can know our students are actually engaged?

Student engagement can be defined a variety of ways. But, according to ASCD (a global community of educators dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching and leading) the best comes from the work of Phil Schlecty (1994), who says students who are engaged exhibit three characteristics: (1) they are attracted to their work, (2) they persist in their work despite challenges and obstacles, and (3) they take visible delight in accomplishing their work.

During the past eight years, Terra State Community College has participated in the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) six different times. This survey is administered by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, an organization affiliated with the University of Texas. The survey questions are based on The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson. While this survey is not mandatory, we feel that our participation helps us improve the student experience. The results are used by the College as we strategically plan how to help our students succeed.

This year’s results are something we are very proud of and show the tremendous efforts our faculty and staff have made toward student success. While the study is not designed to be comparative between years due to the standardization of national scores, Terra State did see improvement in all five benchmarks (areas that educational research has shown to be important to students’ college experiences and educational outcomes).


The national average of the five benchmarks is 50. Terra State is above this average in both Academic Challenge and Student-Faculty Interaction.

Academic Challenge had a dramatic increase of 9.7 points. This benchmark addresses the nature and amount of assigned academic work, the complexity of cognitive tasks presented to students and the rigor of examinations used to evaluate student performance. It is important because challenging intellectual and creative work is central to student learning and collegiate quality (CCSSE).

Delving deeper into the actual questions from this benchmark, we can see exactly how students answer questions like “During the current school year, how much has your coursework at this college emphasized using information you have read or heard to perform a new skill?” In 2013, 66.6 percent of students surveyed answered quite a bit or very much – but in 2016, that jumped to 71.4 percent of students answering quite a bit or very much (that’s a 7.2 percent improvement rate).

Another question from this benchmark is “How much does this college emphasize encouraging you to spend significant amounts of time studying?” Our scores on this one didn’t change much (3.04 in 2013 to 3.08 in 2016 – note that these scores are based on a 1-4 rated scale with 1 being the lowest and 4 being the highest) but it was a good score to begin with – this year 71.8 percent of students surveyed answered quite a bit or very much.

Some of you may be asking what about the scores that aren’t as favorable. Well, they are there and we are working on ways to address them.

For instance, when asked “How much does this college emphasize providing the support you need to thrive socially?” 62.5 percent of the students surveyed answered some or very little. We could justify that by saying 81.9 percent of those same students answered that student organizations are either somewhat or not at all important to them.

So should we dismiss the question? In this case, we should not because we feel having a social network at Terra State is important and we will begin to address this in our “Be Social” and “Be Involved” campaigns this fall. To learn more about these, read next week’s blog.

In short, student engagement is important to Terra State because it is strongly correlated to student success. We choose to participate in CCSSE because it provides measurable data that we can analyze and use to improve our students’ experience.

Terra State is proud to share the results that our scores have improved since the last survey in 2013 and are above the national average in two benchmarks – Academic Challenge and Student-Faculty Interaction. We are also coming up with action plans to address scores we would like to see improve in the next survey. These areas and plans will be highlighted in the coming weeks – stay tuned for more great things happening at Terra State!