The Student Satisfaction Survey

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. If you are interested in writing an eAIR article, or have an interesting topic, please contact  

This month’s question is answered by Julie Bryant, Associate Vice President for Retention Solutions at Ruffalo Noel Levitz.  She manages the Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys, working with hundreds of IR offices across the country and managing the national data base for student satisfaction.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Subscribers are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article.

JulieBryant.jpgDear Julie: Our Institutional Research Office is conducting a student satisfaction survey for the first time in several years. How can we make the most out of this data set?

Student satisfaction assessments are a powerful way to capture student perceptions about a wide-range of campus experiences. The data can provide the student voice for your campus leaders in their decision-making process in a variety of ways. In our work with hundreds of four-year public and private institutions as well as two-year community colleges and career schools each year who are administering the Student Satisfaction Inventory, we have gathered a range of suggestions for making the most of these data. You will find a better return on your investment of time and resources with conducting satisfaction surveys when you are able to use the resulting data for multiple purposes on your campus.

Retention Efforts / Student Success Initiatives

This is number one reason we hear from campuses for why they are gathering student satisfaction data. Satisfaction surveys can help you identify areas of high priority and low satisfaction for your students. These items should be among your first areas of focus for improvement if you want to show your students that your institution cares about their experience. When students know you care enough to make changes, they may feel better about their experience and choose to stay enrolled at your institution. (We have documented links between student satisfaction and institutional graduation rates as well as individual student retention). You will want to share the data with various departments on campus to highlight top priority areas in their area of responsibility. By providing additional data elements to further explore the issues (data slices by class level, or qualitative data from focus groups for example), your campus team will be better informed to identify the best initiatives to address the issues. 

Strategic Planning Efforts

It is likely that you have ongoing strategic planning efforts at your institution. The data from your student satisfaction survey can be folded into your SWOT analysis and can provide the student perspective on top priority areas for long-term investment.  Some of the issues identified as institutional challenges by your students may require additional resources (time, money, etc.) and should be noted in your strategic plan in order to position your activities for the long-term. Be sure to share the satisfaction survey results with your top leadership to get their input on how they want to respond to the issues immediately versus those areas that will need to be addressed in the future. 

Accreditation Documentation

Many institutional researchers we work with have learned that collecting student satisfaction data on a cyclical basis every two or three years puts the college in the best position for tracking and improving the student experience as compared with just surveying students right before the self-study or the accreditation visit. The data can help your institution stay aware of student concerns throughout the ten-year period. The data can also provide your regional accreditor with documentation on where satisfaction levels have improved over time based on your campus efforts. Be sure to share the data results with your accreditation team and to seek resources that match the survey items to the accreditation criteria to assist with the documentation activities. 

Recruitment Activities

An often overlooked way to use student satisfaction survey results is to highlight the areas where the institution is performing well (high importance and high satisfaction) in materials to recruit new students to campus. This is a great way to attract students to your institution by featuring areas that are valued by your students where you are meeting or exceeding expectations. Share the results with your enrollment management team and your marketing department to identify the high performing items as well as the items with significantly higher satisfaction as compared with an external national comparison group to determine what you want to feature in your marketing materials. By attracting new students to campus who value areas that you are able to deliver on, you will be well-positioned for student success in the future. 

In my experience over the past 20 years, student satisfaction assessments can provide a wealth of information to campuses. The key is to partner with a variety of departments and to provide relevant data elements to your campus leadership. You may have already identified a few of these ways to use your data, but I hope with your current administration, you will be able to expand the utilization of the data even further. The student voice can be a powerful component for institutional decision making. 



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