Measuring student satisfaction with college

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By Julie Bryant

I have been a higher education professional for more than 20 years, working with colleges, universities and community colleges in the area of student satisfaction. I help campus leadership review satisfaction assessment results and provide guidance on how to use what they learn in their decision making.

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High School Parent | College Parent

In the last two years, I’ve developed a new perspective on student satisfaction — my daughter, Kylie, is a college sophomore and I’m now a college parent. Why should it matter to you and me if a college measures our students’ satisfaction? Evaluating the satisfaction and priorities of its students allows a school to better understand those students and continuously improve the quality of their experience. The ultimate goal is to improve retention and graduation rates. Supporting a successful student who completes her degree is also our goal as parents.

How is student satisfaction measured? At four-year private schools in the US, like the one my daughter attends, the highest priorities are to have students affirm the following:

  • The quality of instruction in most classes is excellent.
  • Students are able to experience intellectual growth.
  • The campus is safe and secure for all students.
  • Staff are caring and helpful.
  • Faculty are usually available after class and during office hours.

In general, Kylie’s college and others in this category perform well in the above areas. How do you feel your student’s school is performing? Is your student satisfied? Are you?

In addition to these areas of “strength,” four-year institutions nationally have areas of “challenge,” where lower satisfaction scores mean there is room for improvement:


The perception that the tuition being paid is worthwhile is especially crucial in today’s world. The media love to report on college graduates who end up in debt and living at home. Do you find yourself more aware of these stories now that you’re a college parent? I know I do!

  • Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.
  • Faculty provide timely feedback about student progress in a course.
  • Students can register for classes with few conflicts.
  • The institution shows concern for students as individuals.
  • Billing policies are reasonable.

For the most part, my daughter reports that her professors are good about providing timely feedback. This is important to her generation. Students expect professors to grade and return papers and exams with ever faster turnaround times, and to be kept informed of their academic progress.

Being at a smaller college (fewer than 2,500 students), Kylie is in a good position to connect with faculty, staff, and administrators and to be known in the classroom and on campus. But in the national data, I have found that even students at larger four-year public universities expect this. We all want to feel valued in the environment we are in.

I am glad that Kylie’s college reaches out to me as a parent with helpful information and solid evidence of the value of the education she is experiencing. Just this week, I received a letter from the college president, sharing a few key items:

  • An update on student educational opportunities, including recent January term study abroad experiences;
  • A highlight from the second semester opening convocation, reflecting the quality of individuals sharing their wisdom and leadership with students;
  • Statistics on the number of recent graduates who have successfully transitioned into careers (with a link to more details on the school website);
  • Advance notice of 2015–16 tuition, room and board so I can plan ahead, and;
  • Contact information for the Financial Aid Office with a reminder about completing the FAFSA and renewing financial aid.

The president’s email address was also provided. I appreciated how this letter reinforced my sense of the value of Kylie’s education, which in turn set the stage for my acceptance of the tuition increase.

What communications are you receiving from your student’s college? Do you know if the school conducts student satisfaction assessments in order to be student-centered in their decision making? Do they send you surveys to assess your priorities and satisfaction?

If you’re interested in the national satisfaction results, or would like to see if your student’s college or university is conducting a satisfaction survey, I invite you to visit Please also feel free to continue the conversation with me at All the best to you and your college student!

Julie Bryant is Associate Vice President for Retention Solutions with Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a higher education consulting company. Ms. Bryant provides service to educators by assisting them in determining relationships between perceptions of importance and satisfaction of students. Ms. Bryant identifies ways these data can inform retention planning and be shared with the campus community. She also oversees the annual national reporting and trend analysis of these data. She has authored and contributed to white papers on topics related to student satisfaction. Ms. Bryant is a graduate of Cornell College (Iowa).

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from  fellow college parents by joining our College Parents’ Facebook group.

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