student success

Getting it done: Turning college student satisfaction data into action

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

February 20, 2018

How can you make greatest impact with your college student satisfaction data?

“What gets measured, gets done” is a famous quote attributed to Edwards Deming.  I interpret this quote to mean if you are measuring something, you are in a better position to respond to that data to make improvements.  It is a philosophy that I have shared with colleges and universities when making the case for conducting student satisfaction assessment.

However, I recognize that responding to college student satisfaction data to make improvements to the student experience—to actually “get it done”—can be challenging with the competing priorities on a college campus.  Having guidelines and real-life examples can support efforts on individual campuses.

There are three key steps to follow after assessing student satisfaction on your campus:

1.    Explore your college student satisfaction data more deeply

The results from the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) identify top strengths and challenges for the institution, but what do the individual items really mean to your students?  Exploring the data by looking at demographic subsets of the data can provide a clearer picture of where an item is more or less of an issue.  Priority demographic groups include:

  • class level
  • full-time/part-time enrollment
  • student indicated majors/programs.

Is access to classes more critical to full-time students or to part-time ones?  Are students more concerned with faculty proving timely feedback in business programs or nursing majors? Understanding these perspectives will help you to target your responses accordingly.

Another way to further explore the items is to conduct focus groups with students to talk with them about what they have experienced and what they suggest for improvements.  You may find that the identified issue is much easier to resolve than you initially realized.  Through focus group discussions, one campus discovered that the way students wanted the school to respond to the issue “Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment”—a big issue on the SSI—was to keep the printers stocked with paper and working correctly so they could print their syllabus and supporting material as expected. Many issues will not be that easy to solve, but it pays to investigate.

2.    Respond with new initiatives to directly address student satisfaction issues

Once your college student satisfaction data provide a better idea what is at the heart of the issues that students have identified as priorities, it is important to make actual changes on campus.  These changes may include new policies or procedures but they can also be activities to change student perceptions.  Are there improvements that can be done immediately and easily, like extending hours for the business office or adding financial aid counseling triage services during peak times?  Some items may require additional resources, so they may need to be added to your longer-term strategic plan. This may include such things as adding courses in high-demand areas or adding advising staff.

Keep in mind that student perceptions also play a significant role in student satisfaction, so look for opportunities to change perceptions with the information you are providing.  This may mean improving information on financial aid steps or informing students that you have plenty of parking spaces, they just need to allow 15 minutes to find a spot and get to class!  Taking a good look at the information you provide to students throughout their experience can help you to identify cost-effective opportunities to change perceptions, and ultimately satisfaction levels.

3.      Inform the students of the actions taken

Too often, campuses assume that students are aware of the changes that have been made and why.  However, I encourage you to be intentional in your communications with students.  When you make a change based on your college student satisfaction data, tell the students: “You said this, and we did that in response, because we care about your experience.”  Connect the dots for them so they know that you are paying attention and that their responses to the satisfaction survey matter because they are guiding decision making on campus.

These communications can be simple statements on posters around campus, done via social media, or short announcements in class.  Closing the feedback loop is in important step, especially before you survey students again.  If you are taking actions behind closed doors, and students are not made aware of the changes, you are unlikely to see satisfaction scores go up on your next satisfaction assessment.

Three opportunities to turn your college student satisfaction data into action

Are you looking for more ideas and opportunities to get real-world examples of what is working with using student satisfaction assessment data to “get things done?”  I invite you to consider three opportunities to learn more:

I also have discussed specific examples for acting on your college student satisfaction data in a previous blog.

Student satisfaction has been linked to higher student retention and institutional graduation rates, but the difference between institutions that are seeing satisfaction levels improve and those that remain stagnant are the ones that are “getting it done” with exploring, responding, and informing students.  I encourage you to learn from others on the best ways to do this and to identify will work on your campus.

Please contact me if I can answer any questions in this area.

About the Author

Julie Bryant of RNL

Julie L. Bryant, associate vice president of retention solutions at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America in the area of satisfaction assessment. Ms Bryant is responsible for client service...

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