My Frustration with CCSSE, Student Engagement and Libraries (by TTW contributor Troy Swanson)

Today, my blood started to boil as I sat through a presentation on my campus. The speaker actually did a good job. He was detailing information about a nation-wide survey called CCSSE (the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, in which our campus has participated for many years.

Engagement is much more than a buzzword within community colleges. The higher education literature is very clear that the ways that students build personal and intellectual connections with a campus (the ways they engage) have a major impact on the success of that student. (See Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence by Kuh, et al, The Journal of Higher Education 79:5, 2008). My college has set out to make engagement our credo. It is the heart of our mission. The CCSSE survey is one of the central ways we measure how well we are doing with engaging our students.

Which brings me back to my boiling blood. I got all hot and bothered today, because I know that CCSSE does not include one single question on library usage. CCSSE is one of the largest national surveys given in US community colleges. It includes questions on writing papers, conducting research, and hours spent on coursework. It also includes questions on services such as advising, computers labs, and tutoring. But not even one question about library usage that we could correlate with other questions.

From 2006-2009, I was a member of a Community and Junior College Section task force (part of ACRL) which proposed and lobbied CCSSE to add several library-related questions. We outlined findings in the literature that demonstrated the types of engagement that libraries support. (You can find some of our work here: In the end, we had several conference calls with the organizers of CCSSE who are at the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin. We proposed four questions, but, frankly, even one question would have made a difference. To date, not one question has been added to CCSSE, which is really a travesty when one considers the work that community college libraries do across the US each and every day.

I know that adding a couple questions to a survey is not the only or even most important avenue in assessing the ways that my library engages students on my campus. But, libraries (public and academic) are all about engagement. Nothing is more crystal clear to me. Libraries are places of learning where authentic learning, personal connections, and individual development happen. Libraries are community spaces. The research into student engagement provides a commentary across all libraries for the work that we do. It doesn’t seem like such a big step to talk about the ways that public libraries engage their users and the community building that results from this engagement. The bottom line is that engagement means connections and that, after all, is the underpinnings of community.

But the designers of the CCSSE survey refuse to measure what we do.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the upcoming book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.