student success

Student Satisfaction Data: Taking Action for Institutional Success

Shannon CookSenior Consultant, Retention SolutionsMay 16, 2024

Student satisfaction matters for the health and wealth of your institution. If your students are not satisfied with their experience, they will either not stay enrolled (and you will lose their tuition revenue) or they will stay, but they may not be engaged alumni in the future (and you will lose their fundraising dollars). In a time when some institutions are struggling to keep their doors open and state appropriations are being reduced, every tuition and development dollar matters even more.

We work with hundreds of institutions who are regularly gathering student satisfaction data from their students, but to be most effective, institutions need to do more than just gather the feedback. They need to be willing to take action to improve the student experience. When used optimally, the data can offer a strong return on investment by informing retention/student success efforts, providing the student perspective for strategic planning, documenting the priorities for your institutional accreditation activities, and identifying your strengths to promote in recruitment materials. Student satisfaction data is informative as well as relevant for goal-setting and improvement activities for a variety of departments and campus constituencies. 

Chart showing how student satisfaction data is relevant across campus for enrollment, retention, and research.

How are campuses using their data?

I invited two of our campus partners to share their experiences during a recent webinar. Heather Rondeau, director of research and institutional effectiveness at Alexandria Technical and Community College in Minnesota, and Hannah Miller Leftwich, senior director of student success and undergraduate enrollment at Oklahoma Christian University, provided the two-year and the four-year institutional perspectives during our session.  You can read the recap here and/or listen to the one-hour webinar recording

Alexandria Technical and Community College

Alexandria College, a public two-year comprehensive college in Minnesota with just under 4,000 students and offering 48 programs, has been assessing student satisfaction since 2008 on an every-other-year cycle. After a minor disruption with the pandemic, they resumed in spring 2021 with their most recent administration in spring 2023.  They presented these results at the Annual Leadership Retreat over the summer and the disaggregated program-level results were presented to the faculty in fall 2023. 

Heather shared that they find value in monitoring satisfaction levels compared with the national comparison group as well as value in tracking satisfaction shifts over time for the college. During the pandemic, they conducted a strategic enrollment plan which identified student success as a critical priority. The data from the RNL Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) help them to know where they are at with meeting these goals and to identify where they want to go in the future, as well as allowing them to track their progress along the way. They use their RNL-identified institutional strengths (items of high importance and high satisfaction) to affirm the good work they are doing, especially in DEI-related areas where it is rewarding for them to see the progress based on the actions they have taken. The RNL-identified challenges (high importance and low satisfaction items) can be hard to talk about, Heather acknowledged, but the college recognizes these areas as the top opportunities for them to change and improve.

The quantitative data along with qualitative data from the open-ended comments section of the survey provided insight and direction for Alexandria College to know how to take action. The college hired three new student success coaches (and saw satisfaction increase on advising-related items); they decided to go “all-in” on athletics and offered options that were unique to their area including clay shooting and competitive fishing. They responded to student feedback to redo the fitness rooms and they are in the process of revamping the study spaces and student union, along with the transportation center. With one of the key challenges being the perception that “tuition paid is a worthwhile investment,” they began to talk more about the return on investment for students. They also made website updates and revised the faculty handbook to provide more direction on how to best support students. The data were also critical in supporting their assurance argument for their HLC comprehensive visit (and the mapping documentation provided by RNL was a key resource for them). 

Using the SSI has given us actionable insights that have helped the college to understand and improve the student experience to set students up for success.

Heather Rondeau, Director of Research and Institutional Effectiveness, Alexandria Technical and Community College

Oklahoma Christian University

A private, not-for-profit liberal arts university affiliated with the Churches of Christ, Oklahoma Christian University (OC) has just under 2,000 undergraduate students (traditional and online) and 600 graduate students. They offer 74 undergraduate degrees and nine master’s degree programs. OC has a large student-athlete and international student population, and they are actively growing their online programs. They have administered the SSI in the spring of odd years, going back to 2015. Hannah indicated that the three primary reasons OC uses the SSI is for their HLC accreditation purposes, because it provides clear metrics and data tracking, and offers them data for informed decision making. 

In their review of their most recent results in spring 2023, they looked at the bottom-line indicators of summary satisfaction and likelihood to re-enroll if the student had it to do over again, as compared with these same responses in 2021. These items were also viewed in comparison with the national four-year private group. The third approach to reviewing the data was to focus on the red flag challenge items and the gold star strengths and to match the open-ended qualitative comments to these items for additional context. The relevant comments were shared with the leadership team. 

Hannah created an “elevator pitch” presentation with nine slides that was shared at key stakeholder meetings including the President’s Executive Leadership Team and Academic Affairs. She also provided relevant data and comments in four key priority areas based on the student responses: residence life, chapel/spiritual life, work-based nursing, and the cafeteria. After this proactive outreach, Hannah remained available for further follow-up from other departments and programs. 

Three main initiatives were put in place as a result of the student feedback. The first, based on the indication of the cafeteria’s limited hours, OC applied for a grant to start Talon’s Table, the university’s food pantry, which has been well-received. Second, the data will inform their fall 2024 program review, providing her academic affairs department with the student perspective at the program level. Third, the data guided their increased communication about why chapel is offered and why it is important, along with a decision by OC to reduce some chapel requirements as they also reinstated other chapel options. 

We hope that Oklahoma Christian will continue to make data-informed decisions about what best helps serve future OC students.

Hannah Miller Leftwich, Senior Director of Student Success and Undergraduate Enrollment, Oklahoma Christian University

Gathering student satisfaction data on your campus

Are you interested in learning how you could administer a student satisfaction assessment on your campus?  I would welcome the chance to visit with you about the best ways to reach your students and how to achieve strong response rates, along with how to position the survey for the best return on your investment by using the data in several ways for the benefit of multiple departments at the college.  You can learn more on our website and/or email me to schedule a time for a no-obligation conversation. 

About the Author

Shannon Cook

Shannon Cook assists colleges and universities with using our assessment tools, market research, and management consulting to improve student persistence and degree completion rates. She is experienced in addressing questions about RNL retention assessments including...

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