student success

“The accreditors are coming!” 4 ways to use student satisfaction scores to prepare

Julie Bryant

Associate Vice President of Retention Solutions

November 10, 2016

Does your campus fully utilize its student satisfaction scores at accreditation time? As a reminder, regular assessments of student satisfaction provide data for four key institutional activities:

• Retention/student success
• Strategic planning
• Recruiting new students
• Accreditation documentation

The accreditation process can be time-demanding and stressful for your campus staff and leadership, yet is essential to complete and pass. And while the official process is something you address once every decade, regularly gathering data from your students and maintaining proactive processes can make the actual, official requirements go much more smoothly.

My colleague Charles Schroeder likes to say that during self-studies, people on campus begin running around gathering data and shouting, “The accreditors are coming! The accreditors are coming!” To avoid this reaction, our recommendation is don’t just assess student satisfaction as part of your self-study, but assess student satisfaction on a regular cycle, once every two or three years (if not annually).

4 ways to use student satisfaction scores to prepare for accreditors

How can you use data from student satisfaction surveys in your accreditation process? I have four suggestions for you.

1. Match the survey items to your accreditation requirements. As a resource for you, we have mapped the individual items on the Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys (including the Student Satisfaction Inventory, the Adult Student Priorities Survey, the Adult Learner Inventory and the Priorities Survey for Online Learners) to the individual criteria for all of the regional accreditors across the United States. You can download the relevant mapping document for your survey version and region here. This takes the guesswork out of determining how the student feedback lines up with the documentation you need to provide. You can also see how the items are mapped to your regional accrediting agency.

2. Respond to student-identified challenge items. The RNL Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys identify areas of high importance and low satisfaction as challenge items. These are priority areas for improvement based on the perceptions of your students. By actively working to improve the student experience in these areas, you can potentially improve overall student satisfaction, which studies have correlated with better student retention, higher institutional graduation rates, higher alumni giving, and lower loan default rates. Improvements in these areas are going to look good for your accreditation.

3. Document your student-identified strengths. The RNL Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys also reflect student-identified strengths, which are items of high importance and high satisfaction. These are the areas that your students care about, and where they think you are doing a good job. Mentioning your strengths to your accreditors helps to position you in a positive light and to focus the conversation on where you are meeting or exceeding student expectations.

4. Show improvements over time. As indicated earlier, student satisfaction surveys should not be a “once and done” activity, or even an activity done just once every five to ten years. The institutions we work with which assess student satisfaction systematically every two or three years, and actively work to improve the student experience in the intervening years, are seeing student satisfaction levels increase year over year. This process shows your commitment to your students and to your accreditors, and that continuous quality improvement is valued by your institution.

Learn more—just call me at 800.876.1117, ext. 8786

Are you regularly assessing student satisfaction? Are you connecting the results to your accreditation criteria? Are you working to improve the student experience for a positive overall effect at your institution? I would be happy to visit with you about the best ways to do this. You can talk with me by phone or email anytime or meet with me in person at the upcoming Southern Association of Colleges (SACSOC) meeting in Atlanta, December 3-5, 2016.


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