Some of you may remember Richard Carlson’s late 1990’s advice, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” A copy of this motivational book is on my bookshelf. It reminds me not to let the minutiae of life get in the way of the big picture.
However, when it comes to the college experience of today’s students, you may want to reconsider this advice and start paying attention to the little aggravations and annoyances that your students are experiencing, because we have seen that these can indeed make an impact on students’ larger perceptions of your institution. Sometimes, small details truly do matter.
First, let’s look at the big picture.
Over the past 20-plus years, we have studied our National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Reports and consistently seen that a high priority area for improvement for students at four-year private and public institutions is: “Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.”
How four-year college students rate the statement,
“Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment”
|Students attending four-year private institutions||Students attending four-year public institutions|
|Importance to me||88%||86%|
|My satisfaction level||45%||52%|
Source: 2015-2016 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, www.RuffaloNL.com/SatisfactionBenchmarks
The chart above reflects the percentage of students who indicate that this statement is important or very important to them as well as the percentage that say they are satisfied or very satisfied, as measured on our Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI). The performance gap is the difference between these two numbers. For your reference, in the range of scores at four-year privates, the tuition-is-worth-it statement is eighth in rank order of importance (out of 73 items), but with satisfaction scores that can get as high as 72 percent in the national data, you can see that there is definitely room for improvement here. Similarly, at four-year publics, this statement is again eighth in rank order of importance, and satisfaction scores can range up to 69 percent, so again, improvements can be made at four-year publics as well. (As a side note: Students at two-year community colleges, where tuition amounts are often much lower, score this item higher, with importance at 90 percent and satisfaction at 69 percent.)
So what can colleges and universities do to improve perceptions of student tuition being worthwhile?
When consulting with colleges about their satisfaction scores, I used to recommend that institutions respond to this issue by working to improve students’ perceptions of the value of their education. This included suggestions such as telling students more about job placement rates and other outcomes after graduation, like the success of college alumni. I still believe these are important messages, especially while you are recruiting new students. It is also a good idea to continue to emphasize these messages with enrolled students. But sometimes, if an individual student doesn’t inherently value what you have to offer, it can be difficult to truly change their perception in this area.