Student Satisfaction and Academic Quality
March 21, 2012
In today's post, Carl Ruby, Vice President for Student Life at Cedarville University, shares results of a recent national survey measuring students' satisfaction with their college experience as well as perceptions of academic quality and value.
Higher education has been under intense scrutiny, and universities (including Cedarville) are under more pressure than ever to demonstrate the quality and value of the services we provide. Cedarville takes this challenge seriously. For more than 15 years, we have been systematically measuring the quality of our programs and services using the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI), an independently administered, nationally standardized survey used on over 2,400 campuses.
The SSI measures student satisfaction in 80+ areas ranging from the degree to which students feel challenged intellectually to their perceptions about whether our rules are reasonable and our disciplinary procedures are fair. The results are reported in a way that allows us to make the following observations.
- What areas of service do students value the most?
- How are student perceptions of quality changing over time?
- How does student satisfaction at Cedarville compare to a national sample of four-year private colleges?
- How does student satisfaction at Cedarville compare to the 50 or 60 other Christian universities that are using the SSI?
What Students Value Most
A unique feature of the SSI is that, in addition to asking students to use a 7-point scale to rate their satisfaction, the SSI also asks students to rate how important each area of service is to them personally. This helps us to understand why students choose Cedarville, and it helps us to concentrate our efforts on the areas of service that matter most.
In terms of general categories, the things that matter most to students are:
- Instructional effectiveness
- Student centeredness
- Concern for individuals
- Academic advising
The specific items that were rated most important include:
- Instruction in my major is excellent
- Course content in my major is valuable
- Quality of instruction is excellent
- Faculty are knowledgeable in their field
- Students experience intellectual growth here
- Tuition paid is worthwhile
- Campus experience contributes to spiritual growth
- Understanding of God is strengthened
- It is enjoyable to be a student here
- University's commitment to academic excellence
These findings reinforce our own sense that students choose Cedarville because they value academic excellence and an intentional emphasis on spiritual development, delivered in a strong community where it is enjoyable to be a student. A record high level of freshman retention (86%) is one indication that the campus experience is living up to these expectations.
Changes over Time
Cedarville has always had a reputation for its emphasis on quality. This is evident in everything from the excellence of our facilities to the investment that we have made in important services like career services (one of seven areas where we were the highest ranked university in the nation!)
2007 was the last year that Noel-Levitz provided ranked data that allowed us to compare our national ranking to all other schools that used the SSI that year. They also provided rankings that allowed us to compare student satisfaction at Cedarville to a cohort of 53 other faith-based institutions. That year we were number 1 in the nation among Christian universities in 22 areas, and we were one of the top 5 schools in 75 areas. Among the entire sample of nearly 300 universities that used the SSI that year, Cedarville was number one in the nation in seven areas and we were one of the top five schools nationwide on nearly half of the items in the survey (41 items).
We administered the survey to a sample of over 900 students in November 2011 and we were very pleased to discover that student satisfaction actually increased at Cedarville on all 12 major scales since 2007, with the largest gains in the area of Recruitment and Financial Aid. In fact, out of 85 individual items, we had our highest ratings ever on 80% of the individual items with the biggest gains on items measuring availability of financial aid and the quality of academic advising, two areas of incredible importance to students and their families.
Here are the few of the areas where Cedarville had its highest rating ever:
- Instruction in my major is excellent
- Commitment to academic excellence
- Career services
- Academic support services
- Reasonable residence hall regulations
- Fair disciplinary procedures
- Knowledgeable academic advisors
- Advisors care about students as individuals
- Faculty care about me as an individual
- Availability of financial aid
- Helpful financial aid counselors
- Commitment to diversity
- Sufficient weekend activities
How Cedarville Compares to Other Universities
The SSI's 80+ items are divided into 12 major scales ranging from Instructional Effectiveness to Campus Life. Cedarville exceeded national averages on all major scales compared to all Four-Year Private Universities. In terms of individual items, Cedarville was significantly above the national average for other private institutions on 99% of all items.
Compared to other faith-based universities Cedarville also performed well, scoring significantly above the national average on all 12 major scales and nearly 100% of the individual items. In terms of individual items, our largest areas of advantage compared to other strong Christian institutions were (all items reported had an advantage of at least .5 on a 7-point scale and are listed in order of the size of Cedarville's relative advantage):
- Sufficient weekend activities +.93
- Commitment to students with disabilities +.70
- Comfortable student center +.68
- Secure well lit parking lots +.68
- I seldom get the "run around" when seeking information +.65
- Adequate variety of food in the cafeteria +.65
- Career services +.63
- Variety of courses +.63
- I generally know what’s happening on campus +.63
- Contribution of intercollegiate athletics to school spirit +.58
- Commitment to commuters +.57
- Opportunities or ministry +.55
- Ability to easily register for classes +.54
- Living conditions in residence halls +.53
- Commitment to academic excellence +.52
- Reasonable billing policies +.50
The Bottom Line: Student Satisfaction is at a Record High
The bottom line is that we have much for which to be thankful. Retention rates and student satisfaction levels are at record highs, well above national norms in every major category. More importantly, we continue to attract students who value academic rigor and seek an educational experience that will ground them in their commitment to Jesus Christ.