Student success efforts often focus on traditional college students. But there is value in being intentional about fostering the experiences of your graduate and online students. Collecting student satisfaction data is one way to understand the current student experience and prioritize improvements. While these student populations tend to be quite satisfied (compared to traditional, college students on campus), there is always room for improvement based on the areas most important to students. Additionally, the process of gathering feedback, sharing what you’re learning with students, and highlighting how you responded creates a more positive climate where your graduate and online students know you care about them and their experience at your institution.
The 2022 National Report on Student Satisfaction and Priorities reflects levels of satisfaction and importance across student populations and institution types. Data was collected from fall 2019 to spring 2022 from more than 362,000 students at 639 institutions.
As the chart above shows, graduate and online students report much higher levels of overall satisfaction than traditional undergraduate students at four-year private and public institutions. Community college students (which often target an older and non-traditional population) also reflect high levels of satisfaction.
While satisfaction rates among graduates and online students are relatively high, there are always areas to celebrate as high performers, as well as places where institutions could do even better in serving these students. Let’s expand the data further.
Graduate students: Strengths and challenges
Strengths are identified as items in the top half of the importance scale and in the top quartile of satisfaction scores. For a national data set of 21,487 graduate students from 96 institutions, the following items are identified as the top five strengths:
Challenges are identified as items in the top half of the importance scale and in the top quartile of the performance gap score (which equals importance minus satisfaction). For the national data set on graduate students, the following items are identified as the biggest problems (there were only four in total):
Both the strengths and challenges for graduate students are dominated by the academic experience, as they focus on it in their interactions with the institution.
The item “the tuition paid is worth it” is one that we see time and time again with all levels of students at four-year private and public institutions. It’s a topic we’ve helped campus leadership address by considering how best to respond with better communication.
Online students: Strengths and challenges
Strengths are again identified as items in the top half of the importance scale and in the top quartile of satisfaction scores. For a national dataset of 95,512 online students from 146 institutions, the following items are identified as the top five strengths:
Challenges are again identified as items in the top half of the importance scale and in the top quartile of the performance gap score (which equals importance minus satisfaction). For the National Online Student Data Set, the following items are identified as the top five issues:
For online students, strengths cluster around the procedural aspects of the student experience, while challenges are focused on educational areas. Similar to the results for graduate students, online students find learning worthwhile challenging.
Take steps to improve student satisfaction
Collecting data from students is important for graduate and online education programs, but what really makes the difference between successful institutions and those that don’t is whether the data is used to guide decision-making. Action steps include:
- Share and review institutional strengths and challenges with your leadership.
- Expand the data by demographic variables; this is particularly valuable at the program level to see if students in a business program respond differently than students in the health sciences. This can clarify where concerns exist, particularly for guidance challenges.
- Identify ways to respond to areas of concern by making immediate change, planning for future change, and/or communicating better or differently to students about what is available to them.
- Close feedback with students on actions taken to make sure they know you care about them and are listening to what they say in the survey.
- Schedule a resurvey in two years to document how satisfaction levels have improved as a result of the actions you have taken.
Reviewing national data is of course valuable to see overall trends in higher education. But the most valuable data is the satisfaction and importance scores collected from your own students to see how your institution is doing and where your opportunities for improvement exist. Let me know if you would like to learn more about the Adult Student Preferences Survey (ASPS) for graduate students or the Online Student Preferences Survey (PSOL) for your online population. These tools are in the same family as the Student Satisfaction Inventory for your traditional, college, land-based student population.
Optimize online learning
The RNL Priorities Survey for Online Learners provides actionable data to improve the online student experience and increase student retention. Find out how it can benefit your campus.
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