Iowa State University

Iowa State University

Strategic Plan 2005-2010

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Report Brief

Are College Students Satisfied: A National Analysis of Changing Expectations

Purpose

The purpose of this report is to share aggregate data about American college student satisfaction, and to help interpret changing student expectations and institutional response. National data about college student satisfaction reveal several significant shifts in the ways students' expectations are changing and institutions are responding - or not responding - to those shifts.

Key Points from the Report

Highlights of Findings

*A more detailed list of the findings can be found in the section below - Focused Patterns of Response for Four-Year Public Colleges and Universities.

A four-year look at 423,003 students' attitude measures at 745 colleges and universities reveals several interesting insights. Among the most significant:

  • Two-year institutions are out-performing their four-year counterparts in meeting student expectations.
  • Four-year public and private colleges and universities exhibit performance that appears to be in a "holding pattern," with the publics maintaining a slight edge over the privates.
  • Four-year private colleges - typically the nation's most expensive - are losing ground in meeting student expectations.
  • For all students - despite institutional type - there is a decided concern about the quality of academic advising offered.
  • Institutional responsiveness to diversity varies widely among institutions, and for ethnic groups.
  • For all students, basic personal needs - like safety and security - predominate, often offsetting concern about more academic and institutional issues.
  • In some instances, there appears to be a mismatch between student and institutional values.
  • For all institutions and institutional types, there are pockets of performance excellence and pockets of opportunity that colleges and universities need to examine.

Traditionally, colleges and universities have measured one dimension of student satisfaction only: institutional performance. However, for greatest impact and accuracy satisfaction should be viewed within the context of student expectations (levels of importance). For example, the availability of parking and quality of food service repeatedly surface as areas of high dissatisfaction to students across the country. But when asked to indicate the importance of these areas in their overall education experience, students rate parking and food service relatively low.

Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI)

The SSI measures students' satisfaction with a wide range of college experiences. The 79 items for four-year institutions are grouped statistically and conceptually into 12 key areas: academic advising, campus climate, campus life, campus support services, concern for the individual, instructional effectiveness, recruitment and financial aid, registration effectiveness, responsiveness to diverse populations, safety and security, service excellence, and student centeredness.

Demographic differences for student expectations of college life and satisfaction with college life in table below.

Students' Expectations and Satisfaction with College Life
Demographic Variable Student Expectations with Campus Life Student Satisfaction with Campus Life
Age Student expectations generally increase with age Student satisfaction scores tend to increase with age
Gender Females have higher expectations than males across all institutional types Females have higher levels of satisfaction than males across all institutional types
Class Level Freshmen and sophomores have higher expectations than part-time students Freshmen and sophomores have higher levels of satisfaction than juniors and seniors
Class Load Full-time students have higher expectations than part-time students Part-time students have higher levels of satisfaction than full-time students
Enrollment Status Day students have higher expectations than evening and weekend students Day students have higher levels of satisfaction than evening and weekend students
Ethnicity/Race African-American students have highest expectations among all ethnic groups Caucasian students have higher levels of satisfaction than non-Caucasian students
Residence In-state students have higher expectations than out-of-state students across all institutional types In-state students at community, junior, and technical colleges have higher levels of satisfaction than out-of-state students, while results at the four-year institutions are mixed
Current Residence Students living on campus have higher expectations than those living off campus Students living on campus are more satisfied than those living off campus
Employment Status Students employed part-time on campus have higher expectations than students employed part-time off campus, full-time off or on campus, or not employed Students employed part-time on campus have higher levels of satisfaction than students employed part-time off campus, full-time off or on campus, or not employed
Institutional Choice Students for whom the institution is their first choice, rather than the second, third, or lower choices, have higher expectations for their college experience Students for whom the institution is their first choice, rather than second, third, or lower choices, experience higher levels of satisfaction
Educational Goal For degree-seeking students at community, junior, and technical colleges, those seeking an associate's degree have higher expectations, while students seeking the doctorate/professional degree have higher expectations at both the four-year public and private institutions For degree-seeking students enrolled at community, junior and technical colleges, those ultimately seeking the bachelor's degree have the highest satisfaction, while students seeking the master's degree have higher levels of satisfaction at both the four-year public and private institutions
Grade Point Average Students expectations increase as the self-reported GPA increases The higher the GPS the higher the level of student satisfaction
Disabilities Students with no reported disabilities have higher expectations than those with disabilities Students who report no disabilities have higher levels of satisfaction than those reporting disabilities

The SSI trend data are examined in the context of both importance and satisfaction scores. Five patterns of response emerge from the analysis of the data.

  • Increased Expectations/Increased Satisfaction - deemed desirable by most institutions, students glean value from specific institutional actions and respond positively with higher satisfaction scores.
  • Increased Expectations/Decreased Satisfaction - indicative of a call to action by students who have been ignored repeatedly by the institution.
  • Decreased Expectations/Increased Satisfaction - may suggest that the institution has been responsive to students' calls to action regarding specific programs or services, resulting in lowered expectations for needs that have been addressed by the institution's response(s).
  • Decreased Expectations/Decreased Satisfaction - student expectations may decrease because the institution has not shown that it is willing to act of the students' behalf.
  • No Change - may be interpreted either positively or negatively by the institution.

Focused Patterns of Response for Four-Year Public Colleges and Universities

Generalizations regarding the patterns of student responses by demographic subgroup are offered for the four areas of focus selected for this study: 1) academic advising, 2) admissions and financial aid, 3) responsiveness to diverse populations, and 4) safety and security.

Age

  • The pattern of increased expectations/increased satisfaction was indicated for recruitment and financial aid among all age subgroups.
  • There were increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security in three of five age groups: 18 and under, 19-24, and 35-44.
  • All age subgroups had decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • For academic advising, there were increased expectations/decreased satisfaction among 35-44 year olds.
  • For students age 45 and over, a pattern of decreased expectations/decreased satisfaction was indicated for academic advising and safety and security.
  • All age subgroups showed decreased satisfaction with institutional responsiveness to diverse populations.

Class Level

  • There was decreased satisfaction with responsiveness to diverse populations for all class levels.
  • Students in all class levels had increased expectations for safety and security. Only seniors exhibited increased satisfaction in this area.
  • Freshmen had decreased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising.
  • Sophomores, juniors, and seniors had increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising and recruitment and financial aid.
  • Graduate and professional students had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with academic advising.

Class Load

  • Full-time students showed increased expectations/increased satisfaction with recruitment and financial aid.
  • Full-time students had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • Part-time students experienced increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising and safety and security, as well as increased satisfaction with responsiveness to diverse populations.

Current Residence

  • Students who live in residence halls had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • Students who live in Greek housing showed increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising, recruitment and financial aid, responsiveness to diverse populations, and safety and security.
  • With the exception of students in residence halls, all subgroups showed increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising.

Disabilities

  • Students who reported disabilities indicated decreased expectations/decreased satisfaction in the three areas: academic advising, recruitment and financial aid, and safety and security.
  • Students who reported no disabilities had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction for safety and security.
  • Students with and without disabilities expressed decreased satisfaction with responsiveness to diverse populations.

Educational Goals

  • Students with degree aspirations had increased expectations/increased satisfaction with recruitment and financial aid.
  • All student subgroups expressed decreased satisfaction with institutional responsiveness to diverse populations.
  • Individuals with goals of obtaining a bachelor's or master's degree or doing hob training showed increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • Individuals taking classes for self-improvement had decreased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.

Employment Status

  • Students who work off campus had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • Students who work full-time on campus had decreased expectations/decreased satisfaction with academic advising and safety and security.
  • Students who work full-time off campus had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with academic advising and safety and security.
  • Students who work part-time had increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising and recruitment and financial aid.
  • All student subgroups registered decreased satisfaction with institutional responsiveness to diverse populations.

Enrollment Status

  • Evening students exhibited increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with the following areas: academic advising, recruitment and financial aid, and safety and security.
  • Weekend students showed increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with academic advising.
  • All subgroups (day, evening, and weekend) had decreased satisfaction with institutional responsiveness to diverse populations.

Ethnicity/Race

  • Three subgroups had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security: African Americans, Caucasians, and Hispanics.
  • African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic students had increased expectations/increased satisfaction with recruitment and financial aid.
  • Only Asian students showed increased satisfaction with institutional responsiveness to diverse populations.
  • American Indians/Alaskan Natives had decreased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.

Gender

  • Male and female students exhibited increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • Males and females showed decreased satisfaction with responsiveness to diverse populations.
  • Female students had increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising.
  • Both subgroups registered increased expectations/increased satisfaction with recruitment and financial aid.

GPA

  • Students with a GPA 2.5-3.49 showed increased expectations/decrease satisfaction with safety and security; the other subgroups had decreased expectations/decreased satisfaction in this area.
  • Students with a GPA of 1.99 or below showed decreased expectations/decreased satisfaction with academic advising and safety and security.
  • Students with a GPA above 1.99 had increased expectations/increased satisfaction with recruitment and financial aid.
  • Students with a GPA of 2.5 and higher showed increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising.
  • Only those students with a GPA of 2.0-2.49 had increased satisfaction with institutional responsiveness to diverse populations.

Institutional Choice

  • All subgroups (1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice or lower) had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • All subgroups experienced decreased satisfaction with institutional responsiveness to diverse populations.
  • All subgroups showed increased expectations/increased satisfaction with recruitment and financial aid.
  • Residence Classification
  • In-state and out-of-state students had increased expectations/decreased satisfaction with safety and security.
  • In-state and international students had increased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising.
  • Out-of-state students had decreased expectations/increased satisfaction with academic advising and recruitment and financial aid.

Recommendations

  • Successful institutions share three basic attributes: they focus on the needs of their students; they continually improve the quality of the educational experience, and they use student satisfaction data to shape their future directions.
  • Institutions must recognize that student needs today cannot be met with yesterday's responses. The data are clear: current solutions are not working equally well with all student groups.
  • Institutions cannot ignore the disparities that exist between age groups, particularly those 25 and older. For example, adding evening and weekend programs without adequate support services will continue to impact institutions that do not consider the specific needs of students who enroll in these programs.
  • While the conclusions in this study are significant and important, institutions must perform their own analyses to understand how relative these trends are to them.

Reference

Low, L. (2000, February). Are college students satisfied: A national analysis of changing expectations. Washington, DC: USA Group Foundation New Agenda Series.

Submitted by R.M. Johnson, May 2004

This is a report summary and excerpts are quoted directly from the text.

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