student success

Assessing student satisfaction at proprietary schools

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

September 27, 2012

New research shows the importance of using satisfaction assessment to improve the student experience at career and proprietary schools
As enrollments at career schools have skyrocketed, satisfaction assessment can help strengthen the student experience at those campuses.

Career and private schools provide educational opportunities to a growing number of students, often serving diverse populations, including students of color and nontraditional students. In recent years, this higher education sector has been under additional scrutiny by accreditation agencies and the U.S. government. But what do the students enrolled at these colleges think of their experience? What are the priorities on a national level for career school students, and where are the schools meeting or failing to meet these expectations?

The 2012 National Satisfaction and Priorities Report focuses on the career and private school data set from 2012. This year’s study presents the overall satisfaction levels across institutional types, with a special emphasis on the experiences of more than 181,000 students at 315 two-year career and private schools. These career school findings stand out:

  • Career and private schools were tied with four-year public institutions for having the lowest overall satisfaction scores (54 percent), behind four-year private institutions and community colleges.
  • When asked, if they had to complete their college careers all over again, would they re-enroll at their current institutions, only 54 percent of career school students said yes, the lowest percentage across the four institution types.
  • Sixty-three percent of students at career schools indicated that their current institution was their first choice, a key indicator of student satisfaction.
  • Male students were more satisfied than female students with their overall career school experience; at other institution types, females were consistently more satisfied.
  • Students were generally satisfied with advising at career schools, but there were mixed perceptions across the demographic subgroups regarding the overall quality of instruction.
  • Career school students indicated that there is room for improvement in tuition paid being worthwhile and identifying financial resources for their education.
  • Future employment opportunities were the number-one enrollment factor across the board for career school students, followed closely by the availability of financial aid.
  • Performance gaps between importance and satisfaction scores declined in four out of five years between 2007-2008 and 2011-2012, with the exception being 2009-2010.

If you are from a four-year institution or a community college, you may wonder if the perceptions of career school students have much value or impact for your campus. The answer is yes. Leaders at community colleges may want to monitor the perceptions of students at career and private institutions because community college students may be considering these institutions as local alternatives for their education. Leaders at four-year public and private universities schools may also be competing with career schools for students in particular programs or among nontraditional populations, so it is also important for these leaders to monitor career school satisfaction levels as well.

For more information on these findings, I encourage you to read the full report. Also note that the 2011 report focused on four-year private colleges and universities, while the 2010 report focused on the community college results; next year’s 2013 report will focus on four-year public institutions.

Why satisfaction assessment is valuable for career schools

In addition, Noel-Levitz recently published a new white paper, The Value of Student Satisfaction Assessment at For-Profit Higher Education Institutions, by Dr. David Edens, an instructor and former academic director at the Art Institute of California–Hollywood. Dr. Eden’s research highlights that satisfaction assessment can contribute to:

  • Campus planning
  • Recruitment and alumni relations
  • Assessing intent to re-enroll

Dr. Edens concludes that there is a strong relationship between the measures of student satisfaction and intent to persist. He shows satisfaction assessment can be a valuable component for planning purposes at career schools, as well as a means for providing a better overall student experience at for-profit institutions.

I encourage you to review both the new research report and the new white paper if the career school market is of interest to you. What activities are you implementing to improve student satisfaction for your students? Are you seeing a link between student satisfaction and retention on your campus? E-mail me or leave a comment.


About the Author

Julie Bryant of RNL

Julie L. Bryant, associate vice president of retention solutions at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America in the area of satisfaction assessment. Ms Bryant is responsible for client service...

Read more about Julie's experience and expertise

Reach Julie by e-mail at Julie.Bryant@RuffaloNL.com.


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