On April 14, Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade sent a campus-wide email asking students to complete a survey on undergraduate life at the College in order to “evaluate many aspects of the student experience.” The survey, officially called the Study of Williams College Undergraduate Life, is conducted every three years and asks students to describe “[their] involvement in academic and extracurricular pursuits, [their] interactions with faculty and fellow students, and [their] perceptions of Williams.”
The College is a member of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE), a consortium of 35 schools that are conducting the study simultaneously. COFHE includes NESCAC peers Amherst, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Trinity and Wesleyan, as well as many non-NESCAC schools.
Out of the 1992 students who received the survey, 385 have responded so far, yielding a response rate of 19.3 percent. The student body last received this survey in 2013, and the response rate at that time was around 65 percent.
The results of the survey are not collected for one specific goal, but rather they are employed in various ways across campus. “I wouldn’t say that the survey is conducted with a particular purpose in mind, but the results are used a lot, especially by committees, because these general questions come up, like how satisfied are students with x, y and z,” Wade said. “So it’s not something that students directly see the results of, but I think, indirectly, it brings to the administration’s attention what issues need to be addressed.”
The data the survey produces will be particularly helpful in enabling comparison with peer institutions. “It gives us some peer data, since we’re participating in this with a consortium, so we find out how we compare to other schools, and it really help us highlight where we’re having particular problems,” Wade said. In the past, for example, results from the survey have pointed to problems with academic advising at the College.
Though all the schools in COFHE use the same survey, each college has the option to add additional questions in order to collect data on specific issues. “In this particular survey there are some questions about the honor code that were added on to the end,” Wade explained. “That was actually a student effort, I think, as part of one of the committees to gather more information.”