student success

The Value of Gathering Student Satisfaction Data in a Pandemic

Shannon CookSenior Director of Retention SolutionsMarch 10, 2021

As we reach the one year mark of the pandemic, we are certainly aware of the significant impact the past 12 months have had on higher education. During the first few weeks of COVID-19 last spring, while campuses were engaged in a flurry of activity to keep students, faculty, and staff safe, assessing student satisfaction was understandably not a priority. But as social distancing and pandemic protocols have become our new normal, or at least our current normal, institutions are once again considering how to best gather student satisfaction feedback.

If your institution is trying to decide if this year is the right time to assess student satisfaction (whether during this spring or the upcoming fall term), I invite you to watch this conversation I had and keep reading to see what we’re recommending to our campus partners.

I sat down with RNL’s Brian Gawor to discuss the challenges and importance of gathering student satisfaction data during a pandemic during this episode of RNL@Home.

Why is it important to survey students in a pandemic?

We are hearing from the hundreds of four-year and two-year campuses that we work with that students’ lives have significantly changed, not only academically but in all aspects. Everything has been turned upside down for them. Student priorities may be different now, and institutions need to understand what is most important to students. Having current data is even more critical as schools strategize new ideas and implement new ways to lead students during these uncertain times.

Simply put, campuses cannot afford to go another academic year without student satisfaction and priorities data.And schools can’t act like their response to the pandemic, for good or for bad, didn’t happen. Many of the institutions that postponed their planned satisfaction assessment have come back this year, saying they need RNL Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) data now to guide and inform their next steps and initiatives.Campuses also need to know how they did in the eyes of their students over the past year.

Another reason not to wait to survey your students:it may be four years before you have students on your campus who didn’t have some experience with you during the pandemic! It is better to assess student satisfaction with your response now and have this critical information available to guide you into the future.

How is surveying in a pandemic different?

We know that student success goes beyond academics—and in a pandemic, it is even more valuable to look at the total student experience. Evaluating all the ways students interact with your institution will provide a complete picture and clear next steps for your campus.The RNL SSI ensures that institutions are measuring key areas such as campus support services, financial aid assistance, and campus climate as well as instructional effectiveness, advising, and registration.

Since most classes are being offered online or in hybrid formats, the majority of institutions we work with are choosing to administer satisfaction assessments through online methods. This had been the growing trend prior to the pandemic, and now many of the remaining paper/pencil survey clients have made the move to the online option. The online modality of the survey administration can match the way your students are currently taking their classes. RNL can help you to make this process go smoothly and will help to ensure that you get the best response rate possible through email invitation and reminder messages as well as communication strategies to help increase students awareness of the survey’s availability.

Are there specific topics institutions should examine as a result of the pandemic?

RNL has developed a set of items that can be included as part of the customizable segment of the survey instrument to capture a variety of pandemic-related scenarios. There are items that are relevant if the institution is back to face-to-face or in a hybrid instruction model following a period that was virtual, or if the institution is continuing with a fully online model.The sample items can be used as stated, or the institution can choose to modify according to their current situation.These suggested items are built from the Priorities Survey for Online Learners (PSOL), a popular administration option for campuses or programs that are completely online.You can view the sample COVID-19 items on the RNL Website.

How can RNL help with getting institution ready to survey now?

If you are considering a satisfaction assessment yet this spring, RNL can assist you with moving quickly.Online survey administrations can be set up and ready typically within 7 to 10 business days after you place your order on our website.Typically surveys are available for students to complete over a two or three week window, and once your online account closes, your results will be delivered in the new RNL Client Portal within three weeks. (You can see a brief recorded introduction to the reporting platform here). The results we deliver are actionable, including identifying your areas of student-identified strengths (high importance and high satisfaction) as well as priority challenges (items with high importance and low satisfaction), which will allow you to hit the ground running to make an immediate impact on the student experience with these data.

Don’t wait until things “return to normal” to gather satisfaction data! 

Ask your students how they think you are doing and you may be pleasantly surprised with their feedback. By administering a survey now, you will also be in the best position to respond to priority areas and to retain students into the academic year ahead.

Contact us to learn more about student satisfaction assessments for traditional, nontraditional, graduate and online populations.

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About the Author

As senior director of retention solutions, 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...

Read more about Shannon's experience and expertise

Reach Shannon by e-mail at Shannon.Cook@RuffaloNL.com.


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