When I talk with campuses about why they assess student satisfaction, I often hear three primary reasons: 1) retention efforts; 2) strategic planning; and 3) accreditation requirements. Today, I want to share some thoughts with you on how to best utilize your satisfaction assessment results with a retention emphasis. These suggestions can apply if you are using the Noel-Levitz Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys or your own homegrown instrument.
The link between student satisfaction and college student retention
In a 2009 study, Dr. Laurie Schreiner documented the link between student satisfaction and retention, reporting that satisfaction accounts for 17 percent of the variation in retention. This is the largest indicator behind unknown factors which account for 75 percent of the variance. (Institutional features and demographic characteristics account for less than 4 percent each.) This study is specific to four-year private and public institutions—we are currently conducting a similar study for two-year community colleges—but it’s clear that there is a strong relationship between how satisfied students are and their persistence.
So how can campuses use student satisfaction data to make a positive impact on student retention? I have four suggestions that have worked for many campuses using the Noel-Levitz surveys:
1. Focus on campus climate items
The Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) has a series of items focusing on how students FEEL about being on campus. We cluster these items into a Campus Climate scale, which includes items such as:
- This institution shows concern for students as individuals;
- It is an enjoyable experience to be a student here;
- I seldom get the “run-around” when seeking information on this campus;
- Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment;
- The campus staff are caring and helpful; etc.
As reflected in Dr. Schreiner’s study, Campus Climate items are strongly correlated with overall student satisfaction and retention.