Taking satisfaction assessment beyond the students

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

March 19, 2013

Photo of campus professionals, represents using instiuttional satisfaction data on college or university campuses.
Compare the satisfaction and priorities of institutional staff and parents of enrolled students to develop a clear picture for how your institution should focus efforts for improvement.

Based on my previous blogs, you know that I am a strong believer in surveying to determine your students’ satisfaction levels. Having data directly from your students about what is most important to them and how they feel your institution is performing can really help you understand current perceptions at your institution and priority areas for improvement.

But have you considered that your students are not the only ones with opinions and perceptions about your campus? Two other key populations can also impact how successful you are in serving students and communicating the issues of greatest importance: your campus personnel (including your faculty, administration, and staff) and the parents of your currently enrolled students (especially at four-year campuses serving traditional students).

Let’s take a closer look at national data collected from these three populations. These data sets rate both satisfaction on issues as well as the importance of that issue. The student data are from the Student Satisfaction Inventory, the campus personnel data are from the Institutional Priorities Survey, and the parent perceptions are from the Parent Satisfaction Inventory. For purposes of comparison, I am focusing on the four-year private results from 2009 through 2012.

Item Student perception Campus personnel perception Parent perception
Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment. Challenge Strength Challenge

Notice the contrasts on this item. Students and parents both see tuition being a worthwhile investment as a challenge, which means they see this as an item of high importance while indicating low satisfaction. In other words, they believe tuition should be a worthwhile investment, but do not necessarily see the tuition they have paid as worthwhile. Campus personnel, however, indicate that they perceive this item to be an institutional strength (high importance and high satisfaction), meaning they see the tuition students currently pay as being a worthwhile investment.

In this example, an institution should use these results as an opportunity to better communicate with students and their parents about the value of tuition dollars, the careers of the graduates because of the degree they received, and how the tuition revenues are used to create the best student experience. There may also be an opportunity to let campus personnel know that while they feel positive about tuition value, they can assist with communicating with students (and potentially parents during family weekends) about the quality of the academic experience at the institution.

Item Student perception Campus personnel perception Parent perception
There is adequate financial aid available. Challenge Challenge Challenge

Another financial-related item, the perception of financial aid availabilty, is perceived as a challenge across all three populations in the national data sets. In this example, an institution may need to examine its financial aid policies as well as how it distributes financial aid to students not only during the first year on campus but to upperclass students as well. There may be opportunities to better communicate about available scholarships, grants, and loans in addition to federal and state aid. The university could also offer sessions for both students and parents to provide more guidance on applying for financial aid and the application process. Campus personnel should also be informed of available assistance so that they can help returning students during advising sessions by providing an understanding of what is required of them and how the college can potentially support their efforts.

Item Student perception Campus personnel perception Parent perception
Academic advisors are knowledgeable about requirements for the major. Strength Challenge

In the case of this advising item, students perceive it as a strength while parents indicate it is a challenge. (Campus personnel indicate that it is neither a strength nor a challenge on the national level. They know it is an important item, but the satisfaction levels aren’t quite high enough to indicate it as a strength and not quite low enough to indicate it as a challenge.) The action for an institution with these results would be to improve communication with the parents regarding the advising experience. This could be done during orientation activities, through parent newsletters, by e-mail, or with a letter from the dean of academic affairs.  Remember that this is a perception and the goal is to change how parents think about the advising experience.

These examples help to illustrate that these three critical populations at your institution may see things very differently, or they may have similar perspectives on an issues, but you may need to target your responses differently for each population. When you have the data to know what your campus personnel believe are critical issues and you know what parents’ thoughts are on the same topics, you will be able to better pinpoint those areas where everyone is going to be on board to make improvements and where you may need to communicate better to adjust current perceptions. The additional data points can make the action steps you need to take to improve the student experience even more clear.

I invite you to see all the items on the Institutional Priorities Survey for campus personnel (available for both four-year and two-year institutions) and the Parent Satisfaction Inventory (available for just four-year institutions at this time). I can also discuss how you can use satisfaction assessment to manage perceptions on critical issues and improve the student experience. Send me an e-mail with any questions or concerns and I’ll share what’s working for other campuses like yours.

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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Enrollment, Student Success