student success

Sharing Student Satisfaction Data on Campus

Julie BryantVice President for Student SuccessMarch 12, 2021
Picture of campus: Satisfaction data needs to be shared with stakeholders and used to spur change.
Satisfaction data can only improve campus life if shared and acted on.

I have said for a long time that “data left on the shelf has no power.” That actually tells you how long I have been saying it, since we no longer deliver student satisfaction survey results in nice binders that ended up sitting on the shelves of institutional research offices. Now the equivalent is to say that “data that sits in files on our computers has no power.” Even posting survey results to a shared drive and expecting department leaders to go look for themselves is not the answer. A lot of people are intimidated by lots of numbers if shown to them without interpretation guidance.

The key has always been to proactively get the right data points, into the hands of the right people on campus, in a form that can easily be understood by people who may be uncomfortable with statistics, and where it will be relevant to inform decision making for the benefit of student success efforts.

I work a lot with institutional researchers who are often tasked with collecting, analyzing, and distributing student satisfaction data for their respective four-year and two-year institutions. When the data are shared intentionally, they can provide the student voice for strategic planning efforts, document student experiences for accreditation requirements, and suggest areas to emphasize when recruiting new students, as well as guide student success activities. However, the data can only support campus initiatives when they are shared and understood by the individuals who are managing these activities.

There is no doubt that institutional researchers know how to dissect and analyze lots of data to support institutional and student success. But too often institutional research offices operate as an island on campus with access to many relevant data points for various departments on campus, but with no communication bridge to move the data where it needs to go. Those who love data (the institutional researchers) may be seen as speaking a different language than people who may be data-adverse. Many departments on campus would benefit from a better understanding the current student experience in order to improve how they perform their tasks, and reviewing student feedback data is a critical way to do that. If the institutional research office is able to provide the data in a way that does not overwhelm non-data people with too many numbers—highlighting just the data points that are most relevant to that department—communication lines may be opened and the data may be more fully utilized.

When student satisfaction data are accessible and understood at the departmental level, campus leadership can identify possible improvements for the student experience, including procedures that need to be changed, new policies that need to be implemented, and opportunities to change student perceptions in specific areas. Institutions that are actively working with their data results to change the student experience are more likely to see improvements in student satisfaction year over year. Studies have shown links between student satisfaction and higher individual student retention, higher institutional graduation rates, and higher alumni giving, all of which will improve the institution’s success (see more here). The data available to the campus leadership through the institutional research office is a key element to determine the actions that need to be taken on campus in order to better recruit and retain students.

Five recommendations for using student satisfaction data

1. Make data accessible and relevant

Make the data accessible, but not just by posting the full report and saying, “go look at it.” Most people won’t know how to read the data and will be overwhelmed with even trying. Instead, parse out the data points that are most relevant and meet with groups to review and discuss the data with them. (See additional recommendations below).

2. Provide guidance and clarification

The IR office should provide guidance with how to look at the data and encourage requests for more information to clarify the data points. These may include a few relevant data slices (not too many!) and qualitative sources (written comments, focus group feedback, listening sessions). The numbers won’t tell the whole story, so IR can help people unpack the priority areas to better determine what actions need to be taken.

3. Encourage brainstorming

Encourage brainstorming on campus about possible ways to respond to challenge items and use the data points to spark conversations to identify creative approaches in response. The results from a survey administration are the starting point, not the ending point.

4. Revisit your data throughout the year

Revisit the data at least four times a year with campus departments to find out what has been done recently to change the student experience and what else is planned going forward. This will help keep the data and the identified actions at the forefront of decision making.

5. Conduct ongoing monitoring

Monitor and track improvements so they are available to highlight prior to the next survey administration. Designate an office on campus to be the keeper of the action steps taken along the way rather than trying to recall and track down action steps before the next survey administration a year or two from the last one. Students may be more willing to complete the surveys again if they know the data are actually being used by the campus leaders.

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What student satisfaction data elements are relevant for departments on campus?

Data for enrollment management

Retention starts with recruiting students with a focus on fit.

  • Percentage of students indicating the institution is their first choice
  • Admissions and financial aid related item results
  • Key areas of higher satisfaction versus the national comparison group
  • Top strengths for marketing materials
  • Data sliced for in-state and out-of-state students; data for just first-year students

Data for academic affairs

Identify key data points to get the faculty interested in the results.

  • Instruction and academic advising item results
  • Item: Institutional commitment to academic excellence
  • Data sliced by class levels and by students indicated major/program

Data for student affairs

How do students feel on campus and what support do they need outside of the classroom?

  • Campus climate, campus life and support service item results
  • Items: Sense of belonging; Students made to feel welcome; Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment
  • Items related to residence halls, cafeteria, campus activities, career services, orientation, tutoring
  • Data sliced by class level, for students living on campus and commuters

Data for directors of retention / student success

Showing students you care about their experience is an excellent way to keep them enrolled at the institution.

  • Summary satisfaction and re-enrollment scores
  • Overall strengths to celebrate and overall challenges as priorities for response
  • Campus climate item results
  • Items: Sense of belonging; Students made to feel welcome; Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment
  • Perceptions of institutional choice
  • Data sliced by class level and institutional choice

Data for accreditation

Institutional success and student success go hand in hand.

  • Satisfaction trends over time
  • Survey items mapped to regional accreditation (see the items mapped to each region)
  • Satisfaction levels versus regional comparisons
  • Summary satisfaction and re-enrollment scores
  • Data sliced by enrollment status and class levels

Data for institutional research

Student satisfaction data can be a key performance indicator for many institutional efforts.

  • Program level data for program reviews
  • Satisfaction trends over time
  • Data points on satisfaction as compared with engagement data points
  • Student voice for strategic planning efforts

Data for everyone

Student satisfaction data is critical metric across campus.

  • Summary satisfaction and re-enrollment scores
    • Because they are linked to individual student retention and graduate rates
  • Top strengths and challenges
    • Because they are priorities for attention
  • Scales in order of importance
    • Because they helps everyone to understand the value on each area
  • General comparison to the national comparison group
    • Because everyone likes to know how they stack up
  • Trends in satisfaction over time
    • Because this can be monitored to continue to have the data guide actions

Let’s talk about sharing satisfaction data more effectively on your campus

You can download a PDF of these recommendations and/or watch a presentation I gave in 2020 during Association of Institutional Researcher Forum virtual event which discusses how student satisfaction data can help tell the story of the student experience on your campus. In addition, the new reporting platform from RNL for the Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys gives you easy access to slicing the data demographically to see the results for the recommended subpopulations. Actively communicating and utilizing student satisfaction data is how institutions will see the best return on their investment of time, effort and resources.

I am happy to discuss strategies for sharing satisfaction data as well as any other topics about student satisfaction assessment. Reach out to us and we will schedule a convenient time to talk.


About the Author

Julie Bryant of RNL

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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