Polling the masses: How to find the general populace’s opinion on campus

Recently, a large group of students, faculty and staff were polled about what they wanted to see in the future Student Life building. For those who wonder where that survey came from, curiosity need prowl no further than Institutional Research and Information.

IRI is the on-campus source of surveys determined to quantify the opinion of students, faculty, staff and even alumni. IRI conducts surveys for various reasons: to assist professors in research, to aid the administration by collecting data that relates to proposed changes or projects and even to participate in student research projects.

Andrea Brown, associate director of IRI, said that the research is only designed to further the university’s goal of being student-oriented. Some of that is for official business for external groups, like making sure the university is meeting necessary standards.

“Some surveys are driven because the institution is expected or required to report certain information,” Brown said. “For example, to meet accreditation standards, we do surveys on graduating students and alumni who have graduated one or more years ago.”

Sometimes, though, IRI is more internally concerned and focuses on the opinions floating around campus.

“In line with the Institution’s Core Theme of Student Success, I believe it is safe to say the institution is interested in and considers what the students and others have to say.”

One good example is the aforementioned survey about the Student Life building. According to Brown, the architect of the building requested a survey in which current students, faculty and staff were polled about what they would like to have in the Student Life building. Brown said those opinions will not go unheard.

“I believe we can assure you that the administration considers the information we gather from surveys,” Brown said. “They want to know what past students value, what current students desire, and what future students are looking for.”

While the decisions that will go into building the Student Life building are not entirely in the hands of those polled, those in charge of the project know who the building is serving and will take the results of the survey into account.

In Brown’s words, “A survey represents one piece and kind of data, and the information is evaluated in the context with all available information the institution has.”

In order to get a good sample of what the university community thinks, IRI does not need to poll every single person on campus.

“Statistically speaking, you don’t need an entire population to have a good idea of what your students think or feel,” Brown said. “In general, we try and figure out if there is a target group (like first year college students) and decide, based on previous response rates, if we can do a sample of the target subpopulation or if we need to sample the entire subgroup.”

A lot of that decision is also based on student participation. Although IRI may send its surveys to a large group, the replies are usually limited.

Brown said that for web surveys, typically between eight and 11 percent of people respond. She said that with the growth of the university, more surveys will likely be conducted, and thus more students will be called upon to participate in the continual development of the school. She is optimistic that students will answer the call.

“What we hope for is that students will view this as an opportunity to engage themselves in the growth of the institution and as an opportunity to be involved in the dynamics of a great institution which is constantly trying to improve,” Brown said.

Whether students respond or not is up to them, but the IRI department will keep finding new survey topics regardless.

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