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Campus Climate Surveys for Community Colleges

older student photoWhen going about conducting a campus climate survey, there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account. Community colleges have special considerations in the administration of their campus climate surveys. Issues surrounding student demographics and resources can all affect the success and results of your survey. These considerations and differences do not make conducting a campus climate survey on a college campus impossible nor useless. Understanding these differences enable you to make the changes necessary to cater your survey to your particular institutions needs.

Student Demographics

Community colleges have a different student body makeup than that of a traditional 4-year college or university. One of the biggest mistakes you could make while conducting a campus climate survey on a community college campus is to assume that all of your students are the same.

To make sure that you are able to understand your survey results within the context of your different student groups, make sure to ask distinguishing questions, as well a questions that would only apply to those particular students. This can be accomplished by placing skip-questions strategically within your survey; that way, students only answer questions that directly apply to them. Here are a few student types that require special consideration.

Part-time students

Community colleges generally have more part-time students than they do full time students. This differs from more traditional colleges where there is a sizable student population that resides on campus and have more full-time students. When surveying, make sure to take their status into account. Part-time and full-time students may have different experiences on campus. For example, part-time students may be more likely to take night classes to make room for their work schedules and therefore get a different perspective of campus than day students.

2-year degrees

Campus climate surveys are meant to be administered every two years or so. This timeline is useful to see trends over time; conduct the surveys too frequently and it becomes harder to see the effect of policy changes or opinions. The fact that a lot of community college students pursue 2-year degrees means that many students will not be able to participate in a second survey. If many of your community college’s students are pursuing 2-year degrees, it may not make sense to follow up with students for future surveys.

Collecting information from 2-year degree students can still yield useful information even if you won’t be able to follow up with them again in subsequent years, as is the case with 4 year students, which allows for multiple opportunities to survey. In a way, you can use this to your advantage; every two years the majority of your students will be giving you a fresh and potentially less biased data of their experiences on your campus.

Older Students

Community college students tend to have a broader age range and educational backgrounds vs. traditional 4 year colleges and universities.  Make sure that the survey instrument allows for skip/branch logic so certain questions can be skipped if it does not apply to older student demographic.

Commuters

Community colleges see a fair number of students who commute to school. Commuters do not spend the same amount of time on campus, especially at night. They most likely do not live in the campus dorms, where many instances of sexual assault occur. While sexual assault can happen anywhere, anytime, commuters may not be the most helpful group to understanding campus climate. Make sure to ask distinguishing questions to sort answers from those that live on campus and those that don’t.

Community class members

Those involved in community classes are not considered enrolled students. However, they are important to survey because they interact with the campus as well. The problem with community class members is that they may not be involved in the campus awareness campaigns related to the campus climate surveys and may end up not participating in the campus climate survey. Community college’s campus climate survey questionnaire should include demographic questions that allow for segmenting the results by this group.  Your college may wish to forego surveying community class members and focus only on enrolled students, demographic questions can help you make sure of inclusion/exclusion.

Resources

The second biggest distinguisher between traditional 4 year universities and community colleges is resources. Community colleges may not have the funding or research teams that are often considered necessary to conduct a successful campus climate survey. However, do not let your funding or campus resources discourage you. Campus climate surveys can be conducted on budgets and with non-social science research teams.

Lack of funds

Community colleges often work with tight funds. Conducting a full campus climate survey can be an expensive project. For campuses with tight funding, hiring outside consulting teams may make economical sense, especially if you do not want to pay for surveying packages and statistical programs. Fortunately, most colleges have access to at least one of these types of programs, one of the biggest costs of conducting and analyzing a survey.

Other ways to save funds would be to assemble a small but competent team to create and conduct the survey. Besides having a small team, the survey may need to be shortened at first to save money on surveying costs. A small, concisely written survey is better than not administering a survey at all.

No research teams

Not all community colleges have research departments. This is especially relevant to trade and vocational schools who likely do not have the social science research skills or departments often used to conduct campus climate survey. The good thing is that a research department or school of social science is not necessary to conduct a successful campus climate survey. The lack of these main resources just means your college must get more creative with who they pick to create the survey. Research skills transfer into many disciplines, and there are bound to be students or faculty at your community college qualified for the job.

Conclusions

Conducting and administering a campus climate survey to a community college poses its own unique challenges, but it is not an impossible project. With the proper preparations and considerations taken into account, your survey can be successful and bring about valuable information about your campus.

 

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Photo by COD Newsroom  "New Student Orientation"

Five Resources for Conducting Campus Climate Surveys at a Community College

Campus Climate Survey Resources and Tools Campus climate surveys are not only useful to 4 year private institutions and public universities, they can be very useful to community colleges as well. Although there are special circumstances which need to be taken into account for conducting effective climate surveys in community colleges, they can be adapted and administered successfully.

Here is a list of 5 helpful resources to assist you in creating and administering your campus climate survey.

NotAlone.gov on Campus Climate Surveys

This is the official government website surrounding the issue of sexual harassment and assault. It gives general information about “how to respond to and prevent sexual assault.”

On their homepage, there is a link to their Resource Guide, which in turn gives schools several links to sources that are intended to help schools create their own campus climate surveys. The government’s own toolkit is included, which gives schools information on why the surveys are important, what they aim to accomplish, and how to successfully create and distribute a survey. This guide also includes a sample campus climate survey, which can be used as inspiration and adapted to your campus’ needs.

Learn from Other College's Campus Climate Survey Experiences

Possibly the most helpful resource for community colleges is learning from how other schools carried out their own campus climate surveys. Rutgers University--New Brunswick was the first university to run a pilot of this new campus climate survey. They documented their process, and created a document to share what they learned with other universities.

In their executive summary of their findings, they briefly mentioned the key lessons that they learned through the surveying process.

  • “Campus climate surveys provide more meaning when they are part of a larger assessment process.”
  • “The administration of campus climate surveys has the most impact when it is linked with the development of an action plan.”
  • “One size does not fit all.”
  • “It is important to find ways to represent all student voices.”
  • “A campus climate survey can be an educational tool in and of itself.”

We highly recommend reading Rutgers Campus Climate Surveys: Lessons Learned from the Rutgers-New Brunswick Pilot Assessment in full, as it provides very valuable insight into the survey process, as well as addressing problems they ran into. Detailed sections include methodology, preparation of assessment measures, implementation of measures, data analysis, and feedback on the survey experience.

Community Colleges and Campus Climate Surveys

Community colleges experiences with campus climate surveys serve as good resources.  There is an ever expanding number of community colleges who have completed campus climate surveys and have published their findings online. Grand Rapids Community College, Feather River College are just two that have publicly shared their experiences and findings. Since campus climate surveys should be tailored to your institution's specific needs, make sure to make the necessary changes on sample surveys to reflect your campus.

Online Survey Tools to Administer the Campus Climate Survey

There are numerous ways to survey a group of people, including interviewing, sending surveys in the mail, telephone, and handing out questionnaires. All surveys have their limitations, but the most adaptable and cost-effective surveying method for community colleges is the online questionnaire.

In choosing the right surveying tool for you, it is important to understand what type of capabilities you want your surveying tool to have. Do you need to have a high level of control on what the survey looks and feels like? Do you need for your statistical analysis to be done within that program, or do you only need a simple collection method to then analyze in a bonafide statistical package?

Idealware has a great article about different surveying tools and the needs they fill. They break down the different tools by ability and price.   One one end of the spectrum are simple and affordable options such as Survey Monkey, and on the other end of the spectrum is Qualtrics, a much pricier option.  The core requirement for Campus Climate Survey's is for the survey tool to ensure anonymity (e.g., IP addresses or any other identifiable data is not captured as part of the response).

Some colleges are engaging third party companies to run the campus climate survey as a stand-alone research project.  The budgetary requirement for this approach tend to be significantly higher.  For community colleges, there are a range of options that could fit their budget and need to augment capabilities.

Statistical Packages to Analyze Campus Climate Survey Response Data

For those looking to analyze survey results in a statistical program, one the one end of spectrum are simple tools such as Excel and on the other end are high sophisticated analysis packages such as STATA and SPSS. Both of these packages are heavily used in social science research. Many community colleges have access to some sort of statistical program.  An equally capable analytics software package gaining a lot of tracking in academic research and data analytics is R.  It is free and open source and its vast array of analytics and graphing libraries make it a formidable competitor to STATA and SPSS.   On

 

The benefit of using statistical packages in the analysis of surveys is that you can achieve results that are statistically significant. These packages are powerful and offer a multitude of ways to analyze your data, many of which cannot be completed in online survey tools. While they require skill to master, they yield powerful and trusted results.

Resources on your Campus

The last, but most important resource that is available to you in creating and administering your campus climate survey is your campus itself! Community colleges are filled with faculty and students qualified to assist you with survey research, especially those studying social science. In the planning of your survey, don’t forget to utilize the talent on your campus!

In the end, a campus climate survey conducted at a traditional 4 year university and one conducted at a community college may need to be adapted differently to meet their campus’ needs, but the resources used to create and distribute the surveys have a lot in common. In recognizing the tools available to you and your academic institution, you will be able to ensure the success of your campus climate survey.

 

The 7 Steps to Conducting a Successful Campus Climate Survey

Conducting campus climate survey If your educational institution has decided to conduct a campus climate survey, you may be struggling with where to begin. You are not alone; designing a successful campus climate survey is a complex task, one that requires thorough planning, collaboration and hard work by everyone involved to yield useful information.

The United States government has issued a guide to help colleges in their efforts to reduce sexual assault on their campuses. This guide goes in depth on creating campus climate surveys. It is full of valuable information and deserves a thorough reading. However, for those looking for a quick overview, here are 7 basic steps to creating a campus climate survey to get you moving in the right direction.

Step 1 - Set Goals and Milestones

Sit down and discuss with your administrators, deans, Title IX coordinators to understand what kind of information you are wanting to gain from conducting a campus climate survey. Creating goals and requirements for the final survey will become your guideline for developing the survey.  It is also very important to set a deadline for major milestones, which include:

  1. Survey design
  2. IRB approval
  3. Finalizing technology/administration and analytical setup
  4. Administering the survey
  5. Conducting analysis
  6. Publishing results
  7. Determining action items, priorities, budget, roles/responsibilities for upcoming year

Step 2 - Engage with IRB

The order of this step may change depending on your educational institution’s approval process.  Most colleges/universities will have a formal Institutional Review Board (IRB) process to make sure the survey follows the IRB guidelines.  This may require proposing the project before any work is done.  Other IRB or campus review boards will only need to approve the final survey draft before it is sent out for responses. Check with your university’s or college’s human subject research guidelines before administering surveys.

Step 3 - Assemble a Team

After you have reached a consensus on the goal of your campus climate survey and know how you will engage with the IRB, it is time to assign roles and responsibilities of survey creation, review and distribution.  You will most likely need a multi-disciplinary team to help you. Preferably, you will have representation and cooperation from the following participants:

  • Research faculty (social science research)
  • Academics
  • Administration
  • Student representatives
  • Grad research assistants
  • Title IX administrators and coordinators
  • Counseling services employees

If you are reading this blog post, it is most likely that you will be the main coordinator who will come up with initial list of survey questions and setting review meetings and deadlines to keep the project progressing

Step 4 - Create and review survey

With your team assembled, many workshops and planning sessions will be needed to complete the survey creation process. These workshops will be essential to ironing out what questions are needed to obtain the information you are looking for. During these meetings, it is very important to take notes, particularly on the rationale for each question that is included. These notes will prove a valuable resource, especially when you run the survey again.

When the survey starts to come together, it is wise to test your campus climate survey with a focus group. These participants will be able to give you feedback, making you aware of things you need to change, questions you need to clarify, etc.

Finally, always review your final survey before it is sent out to your respondents. Some things to check for other than grammar and spelling are length, biased/leading questions and statements, confusing or misleading questions, etc.

Step 5 - Administer the Campus Climate survey

When your campus climate survey is completed and ready to be distributed, make sure to do it in a way that protects your respondent’s anonymity. There are a number of ways to distribute surveys, with the most popular being internet-based distribution. By using online survey programs such as Qualtrics or Survey Monkey, you have control over when the surveys open and close. They also offer tools to analyze the data when it comes in.

Make sure to distribute your survey to as many people as possible to ensure you are getting a good number of responses. Too few responses can lead to results that are not statistically sound.

Step 6 - Remind your respondents to take the survey

To increase your respondent numbers, make sure to periodically remind people to take the survey. Do not overburden them with reminders, however, or this could lead to people becoming irritated and less likely to respond.

Another way to gain more respondents is to incentivize the survey. This could be accomplished by offering a tangible reward, either to all respondents or to one or a few lucky respondents. Not all colleges and institutions offer incentives for their survey, so be sure to discuss incentives and budgets that comply with your institution’s values and budget.

Step 7 - Start analyzing the Campus Climate Survey data & results

After the survey response collecting time period has passed, or you have reached your sampling goal, close the survey. You may now start analyzing the results!

Many survey programs will allow you to analyze your results with their tools, but most will not be able to analyze open-ended questions. Make sure to analyze these answers carefully, as they often provide unique and interesting insights that can not be collected through traditional multiple choice questions.  You may need a grad assistant to "code" the responses so they can be analyzed as quantitative items

Publish your findings!

Those are the 7 basic steps to creating a successful campus climate survey! While these steps have been stripped down to their most basic forms, there is still a lot of complexity behind them. Remember, this guide is not a substitute for reading the full guide issued by the government, but a supplement and a springboard. Use these basic steps to start your planning, and refer to the full guide for more detailed instruction.