How student satisfaction assessment separates the “haves” and “have nots” of for-profit colleges and universities

Candace Rodeman

February 24, 2014

How student satisfaction assessment separates the “haves” and “have not’s” of for-profit colleges and universities
The more reliable, valid, and consistent an institution’s evaluation and knowledge, the more it can strengthen institutional effectiveness and student success.

The private for-profit college sector has been responding to the proposed “gainful employment” rules for the last few years. Government requirements suggest that for-profit and community colleges must meet debt-to-loan standards for their career-related programs. For-profit institutions have had to address their business operations and graduate outcomes in response to the proposed rules. These proposed rules have had an overwhelming impact on strategic planning, operations, fiscal issues, school reputation, and marketing.

How have for-profit institutions successfully met these requirements? By assessing their students and graduates, guiding their planning with that data, and increasing their accountability to students and accreditation bodies. I call these institutions the “haves” of student enrollment management and satisfaction assessment. Their example can guide other for-profit institutions in responding to the changes set forth by the gainful employment rules.

The value of assessment data for planning and accreditation

In order to make wise organizational decisions, for-profit institutions need to leverage reliable, valid, and consistent data on enrollment practices and student and graduate satisfaction. It is also important for institutions to dissect the information they have, in order to analyze student satisfaction levels from new student enrollment through graduation and beyond, as well as by educational program. It is this “slicing and dicing” of data that can uncover key areas of concern and suggest solutions for meeting challenges to student satisfaction. This is why it is crucial for student assessment to delve into every relevant educational, financial, and institutional issue that can impact the overall student experience at for-profit campuses. A thorough assessment process can suggest innovations that produce substantial improvement in student satisfaction and educational outcomes. In fact, assessment helps institutions avoid the trap of doing the same things over and over that lead to stagnation and undermine institutional quality. Strategically aligned advances based on valid, reliable, and consistent data allow institutions to change, create, and innovate their operations.

Reliable student assessment data not only allow for-profit institutions to plan more strategically, data can be used to demonstrate campus progress toward goals for student satisfaction and institutional effectiveness. National and regional accrediting bodies assess an institution’s ability to evaluate its effectiveness through the knowledge and planning of student perceptions, persistence, and graduate outcomes. The first step of institutional effectiveness is identifying opportunities for improvement. Having reliable, valid, and consistent data can provide year-over-year indicators for improvement of educational quality, student services, and enrollment practices. (For a quantitative look at how assessment impacts these areas in the for-profit sector, see “The Value of Student Satisfaction Assessment at For-Profit Higher Education Institutions.”)

The perils of being a “have not” institution

Consequently, a lack of valid, reliable, and consistent data—or the lack of a process to act on those data—can lead to misguided institutional decisions. The resulting lack of knowledge undermines institutional effectiveness and prevents truly strategic planning. This absence of data or actionable processes can affect enrollment practices and diminish persistence and graduate outcomes. Worse, these effects can be compounded year after year if the campus continues to operate ineffectively without knowing why. Single assessments, where a campus conducts an assessment once and does not follow up again in a consistent and timely fashion, can also produce false intelligence about an institution’s strengths and challenges. Simply put, these “have not” institutions are doing a disservice to their students and will be poorly positioned to meet marketplace expectations and federal requirements.

The purpose of gainful employment rules is to ensure that institutions are serving the needs of their constituents. The best way for institutions to follow those requirements is by embracing the data-rich, action-oriented approach of the “haves” of quality enrollment practices and assessment. This leads to innovation, efficiency, accountability, and most importantly, a student body that feels it is being served well and is making a wise investment in their postsecondary education.

If you have any questions about how you can become more of a “have” for-profit institution—assessing students, planning strategically, and meeting accreditation requirements—please email me. I also encourage you to attend the free webinar How to Assess Student Satisfaction and Priorities, which will illustrate many of the strategies and benefits of student assessment.

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Enrollment, Student Success