New online survey seeks opinions on college experience

Over the next few weeks the student body will have the opportunity to participate in the new Enrolled Student Survey, designed to provide insight into life on campus. Distributed by the Provost’s Office, this survey is being conducted at the College and 28 peer institutions through the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE).

The survey process and data collection will take place online. E-mails were sent out last Tuesday, containing a link for each student to his or her own copy of the survey. The links will remain open and data will continue to be collected through spring break.

The goal of the survey is “to understand fully what students are doing on every conceivable dimension,” said David Brodigan, director of Institutional Research here at the College. By offering the survey, Brodigan explained, the College hopes to “better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the educational process and the college experience.”

The survey was developed by COFHE to examine these issues in participating schools. “Not a lot is known about the way time is spent by students reaching the objectives for which they came to college,” including cultural enrichment, academics, and social life, explained Anthony Broh, director of Research at COFHE.

By comparing the COFHE institutions, which include other NESCAC schools, the Ivy League, and other highly selective schools, Broh hopes to discover “what works.”

Williams also has its own goals for the survey.

“Results and analysis will be available to senior staff and others, and will influence educational policy, future programs, and building on campus,” said Brodigan.

The relevant results will be examined in regards to the new student center. Brodigan also sited library usage and athletics as areas of particular interest given current issues on campus.

The survey also includes a section of specific questions, pertaining to Williams that were developed in consultation with the Dean’s office in order to assess unique aspects of student life.

Brodigan has high hopes for the results, calling the survey “one of the best instruments of its nature I’ve seen in a very long time.” He continued “the survey is being conducted by the tech staff at MIT who have done a great job on surveys like this in the past, and was put together by veteran institutional researchers… the committee was about as well constructed as any could be.”

On the first day the survey was open, 27% of students took part, according to Brodigan. “The response rate was enhanced by the convenience of the survey. . .it amazes me how quickly they come back,” he added.

Broh called the early response at Williams “close to the highest of participating schools,” while Brodigan ideally hopes for a 90% return rate.

Once the survey is closed, COFHE will provide the data from Williams students as well as from other schools.

A “tremendous amount of analysis” will then take place, described Brodigan. COFHE will issue a report in general terms, comparing smaller schools to universities and Ivy League schools to non-Ivies.

Beyond these broader comparisons, it will be Brodigan’s responsibility to conduct analysis that concerns Williams students in particular.

He said that the results will be available later this spring, although data will probably not be available until at least a month after the Williams survey closes, as schools are all distributing the survey on their own schedules.

Despite the amount of data collected by the survey and the individualized nature of the links, Brodigan stressed that students should not be concerned about confidentiality.

“No individual student is ever going to be examined. It’s hard to do it accurately without identifiers, the reason we do it the way we do [with individualized emails] is to make sure security’s not breached.”

Brodigan explained that data analysis would be done “in terms of groups.”

He also encouraged all students to participate, in order to allow the survey to be as successful as possible.

“We’re interested in every response we can get. There are always some students that are quiet and it’s always a mystery as to why and what bias that might create. In this kind of survey its especially important,” said Brodigan.

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