March 6, 2007

Survey Response Declines

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For every five undergraduate students who read this article, it is likely only one has completed Cornell’s Enrolled Student Survey. Cornell released the 2007 edition of the survey on Feb. 19 and by yesterday 2,870 students had completed the survey — only 21.2 percent of the 13,525 undergraduates at Cornell.

Although the survey officially ends March 11, officials said participation thus far has been lower than in previous years.
Since 2003, Cornell has been a part of a consortium of 31 private institutions that use the survey biannually to gauge student preferences.

According to Susan Murphy, vice president of student and academic services, “The Enrolled Student Survey is a survey we conduct of all our undergraduates to gauge the level of engagement and satisfaction of our students in a variety of activities across the campus.”

The Enrolled Student Survey is unique among Cornell surveys because it is the only one that asks all undergraduate students to complete it.

Marne Einarson, senior research and planning associate said, “It is our most comprehensive survey and the only one where we invite all of our undergraduates to participate.”

Officials stressed the importance of the results of the survey to Cornell, noting how influential the findings are in improving student life. Officials take the findings seriously, examining the data when structuring undergraduate activities.

“These data results are shared with the major decision makers around campus. We have presented to the Student Life Administration, the Board of Trustees, to hall directors and to the Tri-Council leaders,” Einarson said.

Using the information gathered from this assessment, Cornell attempts to improve activities to better suit the student body.
“We look at the feedback to see how students take advantage of certain activities and then adjust our program offerings accordingly. Much of what we are doing in the residential initiative is a function of what we learned from the Enrolled Student Survey,” Murphy said.

The goal of the survey is to improve student life at Cornell and although it typically takes students between 20 and 25 minutes to complete, the current low level of student participation is an area of concern for both Murphy and Einarson. With such low levels of involvement, the limited response to this survey raises questions concerning why Cornellians are not more interested in providing feedback about the community.

According to a report prepared by Marne Einarson and Marin Clarkberg in the Office of Institutional Research and Planning, the response rate has dropped since the survey’s inception. In 2003, the first year of the survey, 48 percent of undergraduates responded to the survey. In 2005, that number was only 37 percent. University officials do not anticipate the total number of respondents of the 2007 survey to meet or exceed the rates of the past two surveys.

“We are quite concerned. We know we are asking a lot of students, but the survey is no longer than it has been in previous years in which it was conducted. We know that our students are incredibly busy and on average spend longer hours studying than students at other peer institutions, yet this is important,” said Einarson.

Workload is a big deterrent for some students.

According to Rachel Holloway ’10, “[The survey] is sitting in my inbox and I am going to take it, I’ve just been really busy.”
Participation in this assessment is not only influential in improving the Cornell campus, but it also has a positive impact on the greater Ithaca community. For every student who completes the questionnaire, a dollar is donated to a non-profit, Ithaca-based organization.

Currently, nearly 3,000 dollars have been distributed between Loaves and Fishes, Students Helping Students and The Learning Web. This leaves almost 10,000 more dollars worth of possible contributions.