Assessing the Validity of CCSSE in an Ontario College

Research Summary:

U.S. measure of student engagement promising for Ontario’s colleges

The Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), developed and used in the U.S., can be an effective tool to measure student engagement in Ontario’s colleges.  Student engagement has been a major focus of HEQCO research since the more actively engaged students are, the more likely they are to learn, stay in school, persist in their studies, and graduate.

Project Description

The study, Assessing the Validity of CCSSE in an Ontario College, commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), explored whether CCSSE could be used as an effective tool to measure student engagement in Ontario’s colleges and whether CCSSE’s five benchmarks of student engagement could affect school performance as indicated by students’ grade point averages (GPAs), credits completed and percentage of courses with a grade of 70 per cent or higher.

Humber Institute of Advanced Learning & Technology participated in CCSSE in the winter 2009 semester.  It is the first and only Ontario college and third Canadian college to participate in the survey since it was launched in 2001.


The analysis shows that two of the five benchmarks, Active and Collaborative Learning and Academic Challenge, predict students’ performance in college.  Students who responded that they frequently participated in discussions, gave presentations, worked with other students in and out of the classroom – activities associated with Active and Collaborative Learning; or were challenged to think of, and use, the course content in different ways and worked harder than expected in their studies – activities related to Academic Challenge, had better grades and completed more courses than those who did these things less frequently or not at all. The effort that students put into their school work was also linked to performance in college, but not as strongly as the other benchmarks.

Surprisingly, students who reported high levels of interaction with faculty, or that they used student support services did not perform any better than those reporting lower use.

After controlling for certain variables like age, sex, secondary school GPA, etc, only two of the five benchmarks remained good predictors of academic outcomes.  Active and Collaborative Learning and Academic Challenge consistently affected students’ GPAs and the number of courses completed, although a link to the percentage of courses completed with a grade of 70 per cent or higher could not be found.

Further Research

The Ontario colleges have recently been piloting a series of engagement questions, which have been added to the existing student satisfaction survey.  A next step is a province-wide exploration of the links between student engagement and student performance in college.

Prepared by Carlo Mandarino and Michelle Y. Mattern previously of Humber Institute of Advanced Learning & Technology, this is the first study published to date on the validity of the CCSSE in a Canadian context.​