Higher education is in an age of accountability, with accrediting agencies, government leaders, taxpayers, parents, and students demanding to see outcomes for expended resources. The costs of higher education have been increasing well beyond the rate of inflation, student loan debt is higher than ever, and students, families, employers, and policymakers are all expressing some concern that a college education does not necessarily result in appropriate employment after graduation. For student affairs professionals, this age of accountability translates into an age of assessment: We must demonstrate that the work we do is producing the desired results.
Research and assessment moves the field forward by supplying information about what works for students, what does not work, and the causes of successes and failures. Just as medical doctors study and share the factors that promote health, student affairs practitioners have an obligation to empirically demonstrate effective methods of promoting student learning. If surveys are a primary tool for gaining this kind of knowledge, they must be done correctly. This brief is a starting point for better surveys and more robust analysis of the data resulting from them.
Senior administrators and their staffs can use the brief as an introductory guide and a checklist of the fundamentals of survey development, implementation, and data interpretation.