Love them, hate them, can’t live without them. As much as they can easily overwhelm their developers (and those who take the survey), they’re well worth the time invested. Surveys are necessary to gathering, analyzing, and harnessing what your students think. And what is more powerful than that?
The key to obtaining good data and making the most of what you offer students on campus is first designing a great survey—then after that, you have to promote and market it. Here, some of your peers share pointers to consider for your next student survey—everything from the best way to administer it to different ways to promote it.
College Services thanks Samantha Cuevas, Trisha Scarcia-King, and Tate Smith for sharing their surveying perspectives.
Tips for surveying freshmen students
Contributed by Tate Smith, director, First Year Experience Program, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, ID
Respondents’ time is valuable—so is the data they provide, so an incentive is needed. We offered respondents a chance to win one of two iPads to increase survey participation. I would suggest that a unique link be sent to each participant, which will prevent duplicates in survey respondents. As you might guess, students who have an incentive to take a survey may try to take it repeatedly to increase their odds in winning a prize.
In gathering how they want to be communicated with, they responded that email communication is the preferred method (at 74 percent), followed by text (58 percent), and Facebook (at 53 percent).
The data is always interesting. Specific to the question, “What is the best way to let you know about an upcoming event,” it might be surprising that they said email communication is the preferred method. Then again, we must keep in mind that freshmen are new, have a newly established college email, and are told during orientation that the college email is the primary mode of communication with instructors and campus offices. This scenario could have an impact on survey results.
While we hope to survey other class levels to see how responses change over time and by class level, it would be interesting to see how freshmen responses may change throughout the year.
Our best practices for survey marketing
Contributed by Trisha Scarcia-King, director for the McFarland Student Union, Campus Call Center, and Division Assessment, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA
We administered a survey focused on customer service in the spring of 2014. Our survey was centered around customer service and service culture.
As part of the survey, we asked students the most effective way we could communicate with them. We concluded that email prevailed, followed closely by in-person contact, U.S. mail, and texting. We didn’t include Facebook or Twitter because these means of communication are not widely used on campus. We also believe that texting wasn’t as popular because the university doesn’t widely use that method of communicating, either.
We were actually surprised that email was the most popular answer. We were anticipating in-person conversation as the best means, based on how it is perceived for accuracy. Students had also complained about too many emails in the past.
We offered a variety of incentives to increase the response rate, such as free t-shirts and/or drawings for $50 gift cards. To promote the survey, we deployed a wide range of marketing techniques. To get the best response rate, we combined incentives with marketing the survey. To get the word out, we met with different student organizations, sent direct emails to club advisors, published the survey on many platforms, included it the university’s weekly email newsletter, set up lobby tables in major buildings (person-to-person promotion), and utilized our call center on campus where we sent out voicemail messages.
To make sure we would get the most out of our efforts, we were sure to relay the “what’s in it for me” perspective… we wanted to make it clear that the students knew what they would gain from participating. This included reiterating that their feedback will be used to make immediate changes, so if you know up front that the survey feedback will be used to create new programs, be sure to tell the students in advance.
Brevity is important. When we were creating the questions, we used a test group, the group helped to remind us that shorter is better. Students receive a lot of emails and requests for information, so keep it short to lessen the probability that it will get lost in their inbox.
How dining and Twitter can serve up success
Contributed by Samantha Cuevas, director of Marketing for UNC Charlotte Dining Services, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte, NC
At UNC Charlotte, our dining program did a survey some time ago asking students how they would like to receive communication. Email is always the top answer as they check their email from professors, friends, and the university in general on a constant basis. During orientation, we did a sign-up asking students to “opt-in” for communication from dining. We received great response from the students who were willing to give us their email. This also gave us a chance to get parent email addresses to keep communication lines open with parents, as well.
I believe the second-most used communication method by freshmen students is definitely Twitter. During orientation, we promoted our Twitter information and started communication with the students at that time. I noticed that students will ask questions through Twitter to each other, but they also ask dining questions and provide feedback through images and comments on Twitter.
The important thing in any of these communication pieces is having someone to respond quickly to them so they understand that their feedback/questions/etc. are being seen and that they matter. They appreciate getting quick response, so monitoring communication is key.
- Email is still students’ preferred method in receiving campus communication (with texting, Twitter, and Facebook as secondary preferred methods).
- Define the purpose of participating. Communicate the impact of students’ participation up front. Let them know their feedback will have a direct impact on the institution.
- Give students incentives to take the survey, and keep the surveys short as students’ time is valuable.
- After you’ve gathered the data, don’t sit on it. Direct, noticeable changes after the survey is administered is key to keeping students engaged in what you’re doing.