Survey: U grads more satisfied

by Molly Moker

Each year, graduating seniors have the chance to give the University one last piece of advice before they head into the world.

Results from this year’s survey show students who graduated in four years are more satisfied with the University than in past surveys.

But 46 percent of graduates surveyed this year said it took them more than four years to graduate. The top reason students gave for not graduating on time was changing majors later in their academic careers.

This means the University’s advising offices need to be more aggressive, said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education.

Fifty-three percent of this year’s graduating seniors – nearly 2,000 students – weighed in on what they thought of their time at the University in the graduating seniors survey. Students received the survey in May 2004 via the Internet.

Satisfaction on the Twin Cities campus has gone up from past years, and more students said they would come to the University again if they had to start over.

But the Twin Cities campus received lower ratings for overall satisfaction than the other three campuses at Crookston, Duluth and Morris.

The survey showed students were most satisfied with their experience at Morris.

“It’s because of size,” Swan said. “I don’t think it means anything more than that.”

In past years, Swan said the Twin Cities campus had received lower rankings than Morris.

But Swan said when asked if they could redo their college years, Twin Cities students were more likely to say they would stay here than students at the other campuses.

To help students graduate in four years, Swan said the University is working on several strategies that will help keep the graduation process on track.

Giving students more tools for choosing a major is at the forefront, Swan said.

“It’s absolutely all right to come to the University not knowing what you want to do,” Swan said. “But it’s essential for advisers to work with students to help them make decisions in a timely matter, rather than just letting them drift.”

But according to the survey, 71 percent of graduates said they were satisfied with the level of academic advising they received.

Regents Chair David Metzen said he didn’t know if graduating in five years because of a changed major should be considered bad.

“Only a fool doesn’t change his mind,” Metzen said. “We all wanted to start out as a fireman or a police person.”

Nathan Wanderman, a student representative on the Board of Regents and University sophomore, doubted the legitimacy of the survey results.

“When I initially saw the numbers, it seemed like the ratings were a lot higher than what I’ve been hearing around school,” he said.

Wanderman said he was surprised that the University received nearly five points on a six-point scale for overall satisfaction.

“I’ve been hearing people just railing on the University,” he said. “If I were to take an opinion survey of the people I run into on a regular basis, I’d find something at least half a point lower than what (this survey) found.”

He said people who were most active on campus were likely to be the ones filling out the survey. The survey said students who are active on campus are most satisfied with their experience, thus inflating the institution’s ratings.

“Though (the survey) was accurate in portraying trends, the raw numbers are inaccurate,” he said.

Instead of surveys, Wanderman said he would like to see the University establish focus groups to collect data.

“Though it’s not as good at providing numbers, it is better in receiving general suggestions,” he said. “Face-to-face input is more valuable than ranking on a scale from one to five.”

Rossana Armson, director of the Minnesota Center for Survey Research, said people who reply to surveys immediately are generally the ones who feel strongly on the subject one way or another. If follow-up surveys are distributed, more middle-of-the-road people respond.

Armson said the response rate is more important than who is replying to the surveys.

“In general, if you hear from two-thirds or more, you can be confident that the results are representative,” she said.

If between 30 and 60 percent of a population replies, Armson said the conclusions are questionable, and if less than one-third replies, the information is worthless.

“The University is in that sort of gray area,” she said. “It might want to be careful about the conclusions it draws from it.”

Swan said the survey is representative of the graduating senior class, although about only half participated.

“On broad demographics, we have good representation across all colleges,” Swan said. “Is it perfect? Probably not, but the sample size of the student body as a whole is very large.”