Measuring College Student Satisfaction: A Multi-Year Study of the Factors Leading to Persistence
Author(s)Billups, Felice D.
KeywordsMeasuring College Student Satisfaction: A Multi-Year Study of the Factors Leading to Persistence
Felice D. Billups
Educational Leadership Doctoral Program
Alan Shawn Feinstein Graduate School
Center for Research and Evaluation
Johnson & Wales University
Educational Administration and Supervision
Higher Education Administration
Higher Education and Teaching
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AbstractHow satisfied are students with their college experience? Do they receive the academic and social benefits they expect when they enroll? At what point do they decide that their institutional choice is a “fit” or not? Numerous researchers have investigated these questions for decades (Astin, 1977; Noel, 1978; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Peters, 1988; Tinto, 1987). In the end, most researchers agree that highly satisfied students are more likely to remain in, and ultimately, graduate from college. One of the ways that colleges measure student satisfaction is through the administration of student satisfaction surveys. Satisfaction survey programs emerged in the 1960s (ACT, CIRP), and expanded significantly in the 1980s and 1990s (SSI, NSSE, Noel-Levitz). Today, survey programs remain a mainstay on most college campuses. Their endurance and popularity persists for several reasons. First, college administrators use satisfaction surveys to measure student perceptions of the campus experience in order to identify those areas where the institution is performing well. Conversely, colleges also use survey findings to target areas for improvement or to identify a need for new programs. Strengthening academic and co-curricular programs forms the basis for high-achieving institutions, contributing to institutional effectiveness and ensuring student success (Bryant, 2006). Second, research indicates that dissatisfied students often become drop-outs (Bryant, 2006). Attrition lowers enrollment, hindering institutional reputation and reducing institutional vitality (Miller, 2003). While some student discontent is unavoidable, the best way to retain students is to effectively market the institution, ensuring an optimal student/college “fit” (Schertzer & Schertzer, 2004). When a mismatch occurs, it may lead to dissatisfaction, which, in turn, results 2 in a lack of institutional commitment and increased attrition. Colleges with higher satisfaction levels enjoy higher retention and graduation rates, lower loan default rates and increased alumni giving (Miller, 2003). Successful institutions realize that it is better to invest at the onset to retain their students by identifying what enhances student satisfaction (Elliott & Shin, 2002). Third, satisfaction surveys provide insights as to how institutional quality and reputation is perceived by various audiences. Institutional reputation is based on many factors, and drop-out rates are one of these factors. Developing a more cogent understanding of what keeps a student satisfied limits student attrition and creates a more sustainable campus environment (Elliott & Shin, 2002). Fourth, and lastly, student survey results aid in strategic planning and institutional goalsetting, providing important direction for operational objectives and program planning. The relationship between retention, student satisfaction, and institutional goals is a strong one(Schertzer & Schertzer, 2004). Institutions that use survey data to guide decision making develop an in-depth understanding of students as critical consumers and meet their needs more effectively.