Strategies for avoiding survey fatigue on campus

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

August 18, 2011

It is important to have assessment strategies that provide the data your instiution needs without oversurveying students
It is important to have assessment strategies that provide the data your instiution needs without oversurveying students and staff.

There has been more talk recently on the topic of student survey fatigue. Campus leaders sometimes discuss this issue with me as they consider conducting satisfaction assessments with their student body. It is not just students who can get tired of too many assessment projects; faculty, staff, and administrators can get burned out too.

Here are my suggestions for managing survey fatigue for your institution:

  • Have an assessment plan that is organized, integrated, and coordinated across campus. It helps to have someone in charge of all assessment on campus and to have a plan in place for a two- or three-year cycle to coordinate surveying. You will want to be strategic in your data collection in order to match the goals of your institution. As you develop the plan, you will want to identify what you need to know and how you are going to use the data, and then be sure to follow through with these activities. The assessment plan is like a map that shows where you are going and how you are going to get there. You need to have the map, and you need to use the map along the way so you don’t get lost.
  • Research available surveys and strive to use instruments that are comprehensive and customizable. As you prioritize the number of surveys you are using, you may want to emphasize those with proven reliability/validity and that offer the extra benefit of national norms. The ability to customize a survey allows you to incorporate additional questions into one comprehensive survey rather than using ad hoc surveys, and can also serve to personalize a standard survey instrument. It is great to have the technology of online survey instruments that every department can use, but you are more likely to cause survey fatigue if you have multiple departments sending out multiple surveys during the year. You will also want the data you are gathering to be actionable and help your institution prioritize resource allocation.
  • Dig deep into the data you have gathered. Be sure that your various departments on campus know what types of data are available to them from the surveys that have been conducted, so they know which data they can tap into for their specific purposes. For example, with the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory, data are available on areas such as academic advising, academic services, instruction, registration, recruitment, and financial aid, to name a few. And the data can be sliced to show separate responses by a variety of demographic variables such as class level, enrollment status, age, ethnicity, residence, etc. The data from this one survey administration can prove valuable for multiple purposes on a campus.
  • Tell students what’s in it for them. I think we are all more likely to complete surveys when we understand how our participation will benefit us, directly or indirectly. Campuses that are being successful with improved survey response rates and improved student satisfaction tend to create environments where they set the expectation that they care about student opinion and that the students will make a difference. Surveys can serve as the student “voice” for campus decision making, but campuses need to be sincere in their response to the student issues. Institutional leadership should be willing to take action based on the results and should be intentional in their communication in and around those activities. This will create a culture that is student-centered and data-driven in decision making. Ultimately, the impact will be a more positive campus climate, which can lead to improved student retention.

I am seeing a strong commitment to regular satisfaction assessment with the campuses that I work with. Recent responses to an internal survey of Noel-Levitz client institutions found that 85 percent plan to assess student satisfaction annually or every other year. In the same survey, of those institutions that knew if retention had improved, 64 percent indicated that they had seen improved retention in the past year or two, and 58 percent of those seeing improvement identified their satisfaction assessment activities as contributing to these retention improvements. Of the campuses that have surveyed over multiple years, 65 percent have seen increased satisfaction among students. In a broader study that will be widely released in September, highlighting the trends over 15 years of satisfaction assessment, we found that regular assessment of the student experience is raising student satisfaction on the national level.

I believe it is true that “what gets measured, gets done,” so you want to be sure that you are measuring the right areas for your campus. You will also want to be sure that those efforts are worthwhile and that you are avoiding survey fatigue by having a plan, researching available surveys, digging deep into the data you have collected, and communicating fully as you take action.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic. You can leave a comment or contact me via e-mail.

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