Student Satisfaction and University Family Engagement

Julie BryantVice President for Student SuccessMarch 14, 2024

Co-written by Dan Preston, Senior Consultant

Blog on student satisfaction and family engagement: Graduating student with his parents

Nearly 140,000 students from the RNL Student Satisfaction Inventory across three academic years, and over 20,000 families from the CampusESP/RNL University Family Engagement Report were asked a series of questions regarding their satisfaction level with a variety of finance, financial aid, pricing, and communication and information surrounding these topics.

A few demographics about the families:

  • 65% reported household incomes of $100,000 or greater;
  • 80% of parents responding were born between 1965-1980;
  • Two-thirds of their students attend institutions with 10,000 or higher total enrollment;
  • Slightly more than half of their students live on campus, while 8% live at home;
  • 20% are families of first-generation college students.

Communication and information

Families responded to their satisfaction levels—Satisfied, Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied, or Dissatisfied —about financial aid and scholarships, a scholarship or aid calculator, costs/tuition, and account services/payment plans.

Of these four aspects, account services/payment plans fared the best, with 68% of families responding Satisfied. This suggests that scholarships and aid processes have some challenges, but once the decision has been made about attending a chosen institution, the institution did a good job of communicating the accounting services and payment information.

Private institutions had higher percents of Satisfied scores with families for financial aid and scholarships (66% to 57%) while public institutions fared better for costs/tuition (62% to 60%). The scholarship/aid calculators that all institutions are required to provide garnered a 54% Satisfied rating, with private institutions scoring slightly higher.

RNL is an industry leader in top-of-the-funnel communication and there may be an opportunity to educate parents earlier in the process with better marketing, including video campaigns! RNL also provides a TrueCost Calculator that has been implemented at more than 200 institutions.

Levels of assistance

There is a wide gap between how satisfied students are with the levels of financial aid offered, and how families view the same question.

Adequate financial aid is available for most students (Very Satisfied or Satisfied)
Students Family
Public Institutions 48% 69%
Private Institutions 47% 75%

The gap could have to do with the perception students have that “everyone here gets better aid than me” and “this is very expensive for my family.” Parents may have a better understanding of their financial picture, what they can afford, and how much they are willing to afford for their children. An interesting note that private institutions reported a higher satisfaction level among families, likely due to more generous dollar amount aid offers to assist with higher costs.

Enrolling and persisting

Families were asked about how important financial aid and scholarship are in helping their student stay enrolled at the institution they are attending. The question for students was slightly different, “How important was financial aid as a factor to enroll at this institution?”

Importance of financial aid in deciding to enroll or stay enrolled
Students Family
“Very Important” or “Important” “Top Factor” or “Among Top Five Factors”
Public 82% 85%
Private 84% 93%

Financial aid is typically the top enrollment factor indicated by students at both four-year privates and publics, followed closely by cost and then academic reputation, as well as other factors such as size of the institution and geographic location. Maintaining adequate levels of financial aid into the students’ second, third, and fourth years could play an important role in retaining that student to graduation.

Quality of information

Families were asked about the quality of information they received, was it useful, helpful, easy to understand? Fully 70% agreed that it was complete, useful, easy to comprehend but a majority of this group did feel a need to contact the institution for clarification.

Of concern is that 30% felt the information was confusing or didn’t even receive information!

Students were asked slightly different questions: “Were financial aid counselors helpful?” and “Were awards announced in time to be helpful in college planning?” Colleges didn’t fare too well with these questions. Only slightly more than half of the students stated they were very satisfied or satisfied regarding these areas. Students at private institutions were only slightly more satisfied than their public institution counterparts.

RNL’s suite of tools to optimize aid dollars and communicate award and accounting information, while also providing tools to include value statements about the institution. Advanced FinAid Solutions can help ensure that every aid dollar spent is the best use of that fund. Complementing the planning effort are the Personalized Financial Aid Videos, to help students and families understand the aid package.

Difficulty paying for education

When asked about how difficult it will be to pay for the students’ education, 48% of families replied that it would be very difficult or difficult and 52% replied somewhat difficult or not difficult.

Families with students at private institutions were more likely to find paying very difficult or difficult, at 55%, while public institution families’ responses were a bit lower—47%.

Satisfaction with tuition

When asked about satisfaction levels regarding tuition levels, there is a large discrepancy between families and students. The gap is wide whether the student is enrolled at a public institution or private institution.

Satisfied/Very Satisfied that Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment:
Students Family
Public 51% 76%
Private 44% 77%

The value of the tuition investment is an area where institutions have an opportunity to better communicate with students and their families about the potential return on investment with a degree from the institution. These messages can begin during the recruitment process and continue through each year of enrollment. Communication on this topic is especially important during billing time periods and when financial aid packages are provided. State and restate the benefits of not only a college degree, but specifically a degree from your institution.

Consider the following:

  • Connect with families early about the aid process.
  • Make sure your net price Calculator is high quality (Like RNL’s TrueCost Calculator).
  • Maximizing yield means a variety of communication methods including email, direct mail, calling and video campaigns.

Gathering student satisfaction data (using the RNL Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys or another instrument) is important to understand the perceptions and priorities of students at your institution. It is an important tool for campus planning, identifying your institutional strengths and challenges, and addressing issues that can impact student success. Learn more about why more than 3,000 campuses have used these instruments.

Complimentary consultation on student satisfaction assessment

Talk to our satisfaction assessment experts about how you can easily implement the survey on your campus, including when is the best time to survey and how to get strong completion rates.

Request now

About the Author

Julie Bryant

Julie L. Bryant, vice president for student success at RNL, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America in the area of satisfaction assessment. Julie is responsible for client service to more than 2,700 institutions...

Read more about Julie's experience and expertise

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

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