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Surveys and Interviews

Standardized questionnaires are powerful tools for assessing students' attitudes, opinions, perceptions, and self-reported behaviors. Colleges and departments may develop surveys for their students and alumni to assess the attitudes toward key elements of their programs. The Office of Assessment and the Office of Institutional Research offers consultation to academic units wishing to develop their own surveys of students and alumni. Please contact Dr. Roger Sugarman (257-7989) to obtain help in designing a survey tailored to your college or department.

Alumni and Graduating Student Surveys

Academic units also may take advantage of two university-wide surveys administered and analyzed by the Office of Institutional Research. Each year, graduating students and alumni complete surveys designed to evaluate their satisfaction with instruction, advising, resources, and other aspects of their education. Unit-specific results from these surveys are routinely shared with academic units undergoing Program Reviews. Standardized questionnaires and results from past surveys are available.

Employer Surveys

Institutions sometimes assess students' preparation for the workforce by surveying employers who hire their recent graduates. Trudy Banta (1993) notes that survey research has shown that employers place special value on technical skills related to the job, ability to apply one's knowledge to new problems, oral and written communication skills, and ability to work well with people.

Banta points out several methodological problems with employer surveys. First, the law requires institutions to obtain a graduate's permission before contacting that individual's employer. Generally, less than half of the students contacted in alumni surveys grant permission to contact. The relatively low permission rate raises questions about whether students who give permission differ in significant ways from those who refuse. Second, while a fairly high percentage of employers often respond to mailed questionnaires, the loss of even one-third of the employers from the sample can create significant problems. When coupled with low permission rates on the part of recent graduates, even a moderately high response rate can further erode the generalizability of the survey results. Finally, mailed questionnaires will often land in the hands of an administrator from the personnel department rather than the direct supervisor of the graduate. To be a valid appraisal of the graduate's job skills and knowledge, someone who has directly observed the graduate's performance for a reasonable length of time must complete the survey.

The methodological problems associated with employer surveys may discourage some departments from conducting them. Generally, colleges and departments that train students for fairly specific job markets will be the most successful in conducting meaningful employer surveys. For example, nursing and engineering programs will have an easier time tracking graduates and getting employers to participate than, say, the history or the English department. Departments should seriously consider administering an employer survey if they know major employers with a long history of hiring recent UK graduates.