Using student satisfaction surveys to inform university decisions

The School of Business at Elon University engages Skyfactor to gain unparalleled strategic insight

Institution leaders may think they understand how students feel about their college experience, but truly gaining insight into student impressions of program efficacy and quality of facilities is an intensive undertaking. When the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business at Elon University was applying for accreditation with the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in 2000, the college’s administrators needed to develop a continuous improvement strategy. Something comprehensive was necessary to define exactly how to keep students—which number 6,000 across the North Carolina university—satisfied year after year.

“There are indirect measures for assurance of learning,” says Scott Buechler, associate dean and associate professor of business communications. “A satisfaction survey can fulfill that and inform continuous improvement strategies.”

The satisfaction survey determined to be the most effective in gaining the type of information desired by School of Business administrators was Skyfactor, formerly EBI MAP-Works. Skyfactor’s Benchworks program assessments are professionally developed, validated and rooted in research to ensure students are being asked the right questions. Answers are provided in an intuitive reporting dashboard that gives actionable insight to better serve students and improve campus life and programs. College and university leaders can see exactly where they are succeeding, as well as direct evidence of effectiveness. Areas of weakness are easily identifiable through specific recommendations for improvement.

“The reports do a great job of correlating overall satisfaction with the major drivers of satisfaction,” says Buechler.

For the School of Business, Benchworks covers 21 different factors. Reports also provide comparative analysis, so Buechler can see how students at similar institutions respond.

“Our scores on Instruction in Ethics were lower than we wanted and lower than those of our peers,” he says. “We used the data to argue for a change in the amount of ethics covered in selected courses in the curriculum. Within a short time, student satisfaction with Instruction in Ethics was much higher and equaled (and in some cases exceeded) those of our peers.”

The three most important factors to the School of Business are quality of instruction, breadth of curriculum and satisfaction with career services. Because the School of Business’ provost makes sure to share Benchworks results with the greater university’s provost cabinet, Benchworks can have an impact on the entire institution. When they looked at the quality of career services across Elon University, Benchworks results helped institution leaders realize that a greater allocation of space, people and financial resources was necessary.

“Skyfactor reports were part of informing that major university decision,” says Buechler.

Other benefits include access to the longitudinal data, which is available since Benchworks was implemented in 2000, that allows Buechler’s team to see how the institution performs over time. And to maintain AACSB accreditation, institutions must submit reports every five years. The data from Skyfactor reports makes that process smooth.

At the beginning of every year, the management team of the School of Business holds a retreat to discuss important issues. Discussion of the previous year’s Benchworks results is always a priority.

“Benchworks and the indirect assessment it provides are part of our culture,” says Buechler.

Overall, Benchworks provides valuable student feedback that can inform business decisions at any college or university.

“It is good to get feedback on how we are doing, and to understand how well we compare to other institutions on matters that correlate with overall satisfaction,” says Buechler.

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