student success

Using college student satisfaction data to take action to improve: Examples from campuses

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

May 22, 2017

I recently heard someone say, “Schools don’t lack for data. However, they often lack the ability to take action with their data.” Do you agree? As you gather student feedback data on your campus, I encourage you to look for survey tools that are going to give you data that is prioritized and actionable.

Student satisfaction surveys from Ruffalo Noel Levitz are one example of an actionable survey tool. These surveys gather student perceptions of the current experience at your institution and prioritize the findings. Many institutions assess student satisfaction on a regular basis with these tools. College student satisfaction data can serve as the “student voice” for informed decision making for student success efforts (i.e. retention improvements), strategic planning, and accreditation purposes.

Prioritization drives action

The college student satisfaction data from the RNL Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) are prioritized based on two types of scores students assign to each survey item:

importance scores (a level of expectation)
satisfaction scores (student perceptions of their current experience)

The survey uncovers priority items for improvement by identifying areas where students express a high level of importance along with a low level of satisfaction, based on national norms. Survey items measured in this way are actionable by changing institutional policies and procedures, immediately or in the near future, and by adjusting student perceptions.

To take action, you also need the following:

  • Supportive leadership
  • Budget dollars (but there are things that can be done with a small investment)
  • Individuals who will take responsibility for new initiatives
  • Additional direction from students–through focus groups or other qualitative methods–to be sure you fully understand what the item on the survey means on your campus.

Examples from campuses putting college student satisfaction data to work

Below are five examples from campuses that have used the SSI to identify and address areas with high importance scores but low satisfaction scores:

Survey item: Billing policies are reasonable.

  • Immediate response: Change policies so payments are not due until after financial aid has been dispersed.
  • Future plan: Add automatic withdrawal options for monthly payments.
  • Change perceptions with information: Send a communication to students (and parents of traditional-age students) regarding payment options six weeks prior to each semester’s start date.

Survey item: Financial aid counselors are helpful.

  • Immediate response: Implement customer service training for front-line staff in the financial aid office and remind them of the important role they play regarding initial and continued student enrollment.
  • Future plan: Budget for additional staff and systems to handle financial aid inquiries at key times in the term.
  • Change perceptions with information: Be transparent and clear in your financial aid communications. Break down complex information into easier sections (for example, use bullets instead of bulky paragraphs of text and avoid technical jargon or confusing abbreviations) and be sure students know who they can connect with on campus for questions.

Survey item: My academic advisor is approachable.

  • Immediate response: Offer extra triage services to answer basic advising questions during high-demand time periods.
  • Future plan: Identify opportunities for advisors to build ongoing relationships with their advisees, beyond just signing a registration form. Offer incentives to faculty and incorporate guidance into student orientation.
  • Change perceptions with information: Post (and maintain) office hours for students to meet with advisors, especially during peak service periods. Also provide appropriate resources with accurate information on requirements and update these resources regularly.

Survey item: The campus is safe and secure for all students.

  • Immediate response: Gather information from various student populations through focus group discussions that focus on where and why students may not feel safe on your campus.
  • Future plan: Address the areas of concern with additional lighting, increase security staff, and implement campuswide safety alerts.
  • Change perceptions with information: Communicate with students (and parents) about how, and how quickly, the campus responds to safety threats (if appropriate, provide context for how few and far between the safety issues are on campus).

Survey Item: Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.

  • Immediate response: While the perception of tuition value is a major concern in today’s higher ed world, there are small-scale efforts that a college or university can undertake as a starting point. For example, work to improve the “little” but important and highly visible daily annoyances to students like Wi-Fi availability, printer access, sidewalk repair, etc., which students are apt to associate with tuition.
  • Future plan: Conduct price sensitivity research to assess how students feel about the cost to attend your institution.
  • Change perceptions with information: Track and publish employment outcomes for graduates, invite alumni to campus to share their successes in person, and use social media to highlight student success, educational quality, and other points that demonstrate your institution’s value.

Next steps for using college student satisfaction data

Do you and your colleagues need to gather current college student satisfaction data to know the priorities for improvement for your students? Are the examples I’ve shared the types of actions that you could be taking on your campus as well? What other immediate response approaches, future plans, or opportunities to change perceptions have you implemented on your campus?

Based on feedback from our campus partners, institutions that regularly assess student satisfaction and take action with the data see improvements in satisfaction levels. We also know that, based on research, there is a link between student satisfaction, retention rates, and institutional graduation rates, so what you do with the data now can have a big impact in the long term.

See samples of our survey instruments and request a 24-month assessment cycle PDF

Most campuses we work with collect student satisfaction data once every two years and then use the time between surveys to share, explore, respond, and inform before surveying again. I have developed a 24-month assessment cycle PDF to provide recommendations on activities that can be implemented in each of the 24 months of this cycle. Request the PDF by emailing me.

You can click here to see samples of our student satisfaction surveys and the reports you receive. I encourage you to think about conducting a student satisfaction assessment during the 2017-18 academic year so you are ready to take actions based on your current students’ priorities.

College student satisfaction survey samples


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...

Read more about Julie's experience and expertise

Reach Julie by e-mail at Julie.Bryant@RuffaloNL.com.


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Student Success