Faculty committee looks to gather data about grad students with disabilities

The SERU survey provides insight into how students experience the University, but the committee is hoping for more information on graduate students with disabilities.

Hailee Schievelbein

Hailee Schievelbein

Niamh Coomey

A faculty committee is looking to obtain more data on how students with disabilities experience the University of Minnesota. 

The Disabilities Issues Committee has begun to look at the questions around disability included in the Student Experience in the Research University survey, or SERU, which is administered at many large universities globally. GradSERU, the version of the survey for graduate students, does not contain all of the same questions about disability included in the undergraduate survey. The committee is beginning discussions about changing that.

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster noted how large and comprehensive SERU is, making it useful in gathering information about how students experience the University.

“We in the colleges use the SERU data, use it a lot, in many different ways to make decisions about how the undergraduates are doing,” he said. 

As discussions around mandatory faculty disability training are happening across University governance, this data could be a helpful tool in determining down the line whether the training is impacting students, DIC Chair Benjamin Munson said. 

“I can see it being very useful for trying to figure out whether, you know, the hard work that we’re doing here is making a difference in students’ lives,” Munson said. 

The DIC meeting this week hosted Krista Soria, a SERU project administrator, and Daniel White-Jones, the gradSERU research and development director. 

The presentation showed data from the surveys and highlighted the differences between them. 

SERU includes an option for students to answer about disability and how they experience it in an open-ended way, which is not currently included in the graduate survey. 

Munson said he is “heartened by the fact that it’s already getting done” in the undergraduate survey, but would like to see more qualitative questions in the graduate version.

At the meeting, the committee discussed writing a letter suggesting that the graduate survey include the same questions used in the undergraduate form.

Ryan Machtmes, president for the Organization for Graduate and Professional Students with Disabilities, said there is less research around graduate students with disabilities, making it difficult to measure quantitatively. 

McMaster said the graduate survey is much newer than the undergraduate survey, but that there are a growing number of institutions beginning to participate in it. 

“When you don’t know what to measure, it’s hard to make quantitative variables out of them, it’s hard to make, you know, close-ended survey items out of them,” Machtmes said. 

Qualitative data, like what is collected in the undergraduate SERU, provides the best data when the sample size is small and there are not concrete variables to measure, Machtmes said. 

“The actual qualitative data that came out of that paints a very clear picture that is very useful for policy advocacy,” he said. “It paints a very clear picture of the problem that we’ve been working on as a committee for a few years now.”

Munson also noted that in the future he would like to see more questions about disability incorporated into the Employee Engagement Survey as well. 

The process of understanding and collecting data on how graduate students with disabilities experience the University is just getting started, Machtmes said

“…I just think that we’re just getting to understand the problem and getting to see the size and scope of it and getting our hands around it, and it’s going to be a process,” Machtmes said.