Holiday Greetings from The Center

The Center’s Mission

The Center for Community College Student Engagement, a service and research initiative of the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin, provides important information about effective educational practice in community colleges. The Center assists institutions and other stakeholders in using data to inform discussions that can lead to increased student success.

Daniel J. Phelan

Daniel J. Phelan
Jackson College

“The Center has given voice to the needs of the community college student in a very personal, descriptive and insightful manner. The Center brings data integrity and credibility to the field, which is essential for our movement to innovate and change in ways to help students succeed at higher levels.”

Surveys & Related Projects

The Center conducts a collection of national surveys:

The Center also operates several related initiatives.

Quick Links

Here are some other links you might find helpful:

To learn more about the Center, please feel free to give us a call at 512-471-6807.

See more video clips on the Center’s YouTube Channel.

SENSE Registration


Center Releases Latest Issue of Re-Engaging Data

In Re-Engaging Data, the Center shares additional findings from national report data.

This issue explores the role part-time faculty have in advising.


A Conversation With William Law, Center National Advisory Board Chair

William Law, former president of St. Petersburg College (FL) and new Center National Advisory Board Chair, recently shared the following in a conversation with Center Executive Director Evelyn Waiwaiole.

Bill Law and Evelyn Waiwaiole


Will you tell us about your background?

I started my community college career as Vice President for Institutional Planning at St. Petersburg Junior College (FL) in January of 1981. In that role, I had the good fortune to be part of the impact of the microcomputer revolution on the classroom experience and the student learning process. I watched the evolution of classroom teaching, textbooks, out-of-class learning, and faculty professional development as the technology became faster, easier to use, and more ubiquitous in college learning.

In late spring of 1988, I was selected as president of Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois, where I replaced the founding president who had served for more than 20 years. By this time, accreditation agencies had begun to move beyond “input” metrics to the range of performance metrics, data, and information that had not been previously collected, organized, and displayed. At the same time, the focus of accreditation had shifted to include an institutional self-assessment plan by which the college had to document the means it employed to collect, share, and develop plans to address the impacts of its activities, rather than the comparative rank of input the amount of resources put into each program.

After four years in Illinois, I was selected to be the founding president of Montgomery College (now Lonestar Montgomery) in suburban Houston. I had the freedom to design the facilities at the new college and to organize the academic and student support programs. The single most impactful learning trend at the time was the creation of learning centers on each campus where students could go when not in class to access more powerful and focused electronic learning, while at the same time be given immediate access to learning support and tutors to assist them in their study efforts.

At Montgomery College, we had our first experience with the use of CCSSE—the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. Indeed, Montgomery College served as a pilot site to field test the survey instrument and to refine its administration process. In 2002, I returned to Tallahassee (I had gotten my graduate degrees from Florida State University) to become the president of Tallahassee Community College (TCC). At TCC, not a great deal of work had been done in the movement toward assessing student learning for all students. The college had a great deal of data on student demographics, but very little data beyond anecdotes of the effectiveness of teaching and the impact on students. (I might add that the anecdotal information was impressive—TCC students went on to the university system and did quite well!) By now, the higher education industry was in full disruption trying to balance the impacts of evolved accreditation, greater diversity, higher public accountability, and stunning changes in the use of technology both in and out of classes. The challenges to convey and sort out all of the interactions of these observable trends caused a great deal of anxiety for the classroom instructors and all who were responsible for supporting students on a day-to-day basis.

My final professional step came in June of 2010 when I was selected as the president of St. Petersburg College, among the very first community colleges in America to add baccalaureate education to a long history of associate and certificate programs. Assessing the progress of students as they moved through the institution became a paramount challenge for the college. Trying to identify documentable patterns of success/failure, managing the ever-tightening financial aid support, and—most importantly—maintaining and expanding the faculty’s control in the classroom setting proved high order challenges to academic leaders and to college trustees.

How did the institutions you led use Center data?

My graduate school background was in the field of Institutional Research, so I had a natural affinity for clear, concise, and reliable data. Before committing to pilot and use the CCSSE survey, I reviewed each of the questions contained in the form to be certain that the responses would be useful, understandable, and supportable from other research. I knew that we would have in-depth discussions about why an item was included in the survey, how the responses would be portrayed, and what differences in student learning responses would imply, both individually and collectively. The CCSSE survey questions were meticulously researched from other student performance studies and were clearly able to withstand any contentions of bias, reliability, or accuracy. This seemed vital if we were to have faculty support the use of the survey and if we were going to use the results to advise budget decisions and college policy.

At three institutions I led, the process was quite similar. Faculty leadership were engaged with assessing how best to assemble factual, reliable data on student progress through the institution. We asked faculty to examine the scope and nature of the CCSSE survey and to determine if the results could give strong guidance to strengthening areas where students seemed to be having the most difficult times. Prior to the administration of the survey, I would write a letter to each of the faculty who were being asked to give up a class period to allow for the administration of the survey. I would emphasize to them that the CCSSE survey was the only commitment I would seek that took away from their classroom time; the need to better understand how our students made progress through the institution was paramount. To their collective credit, no faculty ever complained or declined to participate!

At all levels, and at all times, we had a complete commitment to transparency in sharing the results of the survey with all members of the college. In fairness, these three institutions (Montgomery College, Tallahassee Community College, and St. Petersburg College) were strong performers in student achievement, a fact that mitigated the sense that the CCSSE survey would be used for manipulative or heavy-handed purposes.

Annual survey results would be distributed as soon as they were received, and leadership discussions—both formal and informal—would ensue on what we perceived the data was “telling us.” The results would be summarized and presented at a monthly meeting of the college’s board with early recommendations of how the results could be included in the next round of institutional planning and budgets. Addressing the findings of the CCSSE survey became the primary (non-legislative) driver of budget decisions.

What benefits do you see for colleges utilizing Center data for institutional improvement?

The commitment of an institution to use CCSSE survey data as a key element in institutional planning and budgeting provides an institution with “more lift, less drag.” The results are unassailable—proven research-based questions, tightly structured administration, and hundreds of other similar institutions in the findings. Individual faculty and counselors are not identified or singled out as particularly strong or particularly weak. The nature of the survey questions provides impetus to early strategies that can be adopted by faculty—individually and collectively—to address and strengthen the experience of students as they enter, proceed through, and exit the institution.

CCSSE also provides a means for a college to compare its results with other similar colleges of their own choosing. Participating colleges are not “rank ordered” to determine who is the best (or the worst!). Colleges can prioritize their internal energies to address areas of need or to change the experiences of students as evidenced in the survey results. Programs and services do not feel singled out, but rather feel supported in the ongoing challenges to improve the student experience.

The most common response to the survey results is one of “I thought that was the case.” Most of the CCSSE findings are not a surprise to the institutional participants. The presentation of the findings does, however, impel strong discussion about how to address the evidenced needs. Rarely do the results fall to only one department or program. One of the biggest benefits of using CCSSE is that the student support professionals find common ground with the instructional faculty in their mutual efforts to guide students to successful completion of their programs.



Check Out the Center’s Fall E-News Update: Engagement Matters

The Center publishes Engagement Matters twice a year as a venue for providing project updates, previewing survey and focus group findings, and highlighting member college stories.

This issue features video of several students describing their experiences with Guided Pathways, highlights a member college connecting engagement data with workplace expectations, and shares the venues where Center staff will be presenting around the country throughout the fall.


Center Executive Director Evelyn Waiwaiole named Phi Theta Kappa International Honorary Member

Evelyn Waiwaiole Center Executive Director Evelyn Waiwaiole was named an International Honorary Member of Phi Theta Kappa during PTK Catalyst 2018, the Society’s annual convention, in Kansas City, Missouri, April 19-21. This recognition is considered PTK’s highest honor for a non-member. The award is not given every year, but only when the Society identifies an individual who has provided extraordinary support to PTK. During 100 years of the PTK’s existence, fewer than 40 recipients have been named.

“It is an honor to be named an honorary member of Phi Theta Kappa,” Waiwaiole said. “PTK does such extraordinarily good work, representing so many students at our nation’s community colleges. I am privileged to be named a member.”

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, is the largest honor society in higher education with 1,285 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States, plus Canada, Germany, the Republic of Palau, Peru, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the British Virgin Islands, the United Arab Emirates and U.S. territorial possessions.


Center Releases New Report on Academic Advising and Student Engagement

Report cover for Show Me the Way: The Power of Advising in Community Colleges

With survey findings collected from over 130,000 community college students across more than 200 institutions, Show Me the Way: The Power of Advising in Community Colleges confirms that students who receive more advising—more time with advisors and more in-depth discussions in their sessions—are more engaged.


Sixty-two percent of first-term students and 78% of returning students report meeting with an advisor, yet the advising experience is not the same for all of these students. Eighty-six percent of returning students say that an advisor explained which classes they needed to take in order to reach their academic goals, and 65% report that an advisor helped them develop an academic plan. Only 53% report that an advisor spoke with them about their commitments outside of school.

The report’s supporting materials include discussion questions for the college community to consider as well as video clips from focus groups that the Center conducted with students and advisors. These supporting materials can be used to spur internal conversations about colleges’ own advising models. The report also includes a link to student and advisor focus group guides that can be used to capture different perspectives about the advising experience.


Executive Director Evelyn Waiwaiole and Center staff facilitated a webinar on Show Me the Way on Tuesday, February 27. You can view a recording of the webinar here.

Please also see the related news release.


The Pathways Project - Guiding Students to College Completion

Pathways Project logo

Implementing guided academic and career pathways at scale—for all students—is the shared commitment of 30 colleges selected, through a highly competitive national process, to participate in the Pathways Project led by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).


The Center is part of the national partnership, which is focused on building capacity for community colleges to implement a pathways approach to student success and college completion. Partners are Achieving the Dream, Inc., the Aspen Institute, Community College Research Center, Jobs for the Future, the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, and Public Agenda. These organizations have participated actively in the college selection process and also are substantively involved in designing and delivering a model series of six two-day institutes, each focusing on key elements in a fully scaled pathway model for community colleges. The Project is funded through a $5.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.



Center for Community College Student Engagement
—a Research and Service Initiative—
Program in Higher Education Leadership | Department of Educational Leadership and Policy  | College of Education
The University of Texas at Austin
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