Low Response Rate on Class Surveys
After spring break, the College solicited juniors and seniors to complete respective class surveys in which they answer questions about their experience on the Hill. "In recent years we've struggled to get to a 50 percent response rate," William Wilson said in an e-mail. A department of one, Wilson is the Director of Institutional Research at the College.
"So many people are doing surveys on the web now that [students] probably get burnt out on surveys," Wilson said. This may very well be a prominent factor in the low response rate, taking into account the time-eating AlcoholEdu surveys, as well as the many voluntary surveys that show up in general announcement e-mails.
However, while many students may write it off as "yet another survey," Wilson encourages juniors and seniors to take the time out of their busy days to complete their class surveys. With so many people asking, "What's the value gained from the education you're getting?," the class surveys "are one of our best ways of getting information from everybody to answer these questions," Wilson said. The more responses he gets, the more valid the results are.
The surveys cover a variety of topics concerning the student's experience at the College, including satisfaction with courses, accessibility of faculty members and social life on campus. Specific to the junior survey are questions like "why you did or didn't decide to study abroad" and its impact on your experience if you did. The senior survey has a self-reflection component "to see self-ratings of improvements in certain areas like writing," Wilson said.
The senior class survey has precedents going back a number of years, however this year the New England Consortium on Assessment and Student Learning (NECASL) has helped improve its composition. NECASL's project goals, listed on its website, include exploring student learning in relation to institutional practices. The College is one of seven schools participating in NECASL, including Bowdoin College, Bates College, Middlebury College, Smith College, Wellesley College and Trinity College.
Together, the researchers at the NECASL schools alter and add to general surveys for each class year created by larger institutional research facilities. All the NECASL schools then administer the same surveys to their students. "So we're taking all this data across all the schools and seeing what we can learn about the experience of the undergraduate at a small liberal arts college," Wilson said.
This joint effort of NECASL began four years ago, "tracking the class of 2010," Wilson said. Thus, this year's senior survey will sum up the entire experience of the class of 2010 at the College and effectively determine institutional researchers' analysis of the Colby experience. It will also weigh in on the broader "small liberal arts" experience.
The junior survey should take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete, and the senior survey 20-30 minutes, due to questions not only about senior year but also reflect questions about all four of their years at the College. "We would like to have a tighter, shorter survey and it may come with time," Wilson said. However, shortening the survey requires knowledge of which questions will yield more constructive data, which can only be learned by collecting a higher number of responses than Wilson has been seeing over the past few years.
After the survey closes at the end of April, Wilson will compile and assess the data to share with the community at the College. "If [students are] curious about what their class is saying, I think that getting a few factoids out like that would be helpful, to see that it just doesn't go into a black hole," Wilson said. "Yes, it takes time out of your busy day, and it feels like you've been doing surveys forever, but these are particularly important for us."