March 7, 2003

Survey elicits student feedback

Students at the University of Chicago now have the chance to voice their opinions in a survey circulated by the university administration. Although 30 percent of the student body has already responded, generally 50 percent is needed in order to gauge public opinion accurately, according to the group conducting the survey.

The survey, administered by the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE), takes about 20 minutes to complete and asks students to evaluate everything from their undergraduate education to their political beliefs. COFHE then will analyze the data and deliver general conclusions to the University sometime during the next academic year.

The U of C is just one of 31 colleges utilizing COFHE's services. Other schools include the entire Ivy League and other highly selective undergraduate institutions. Because students nationwide take the survey, COFHE is able to produce comparisons among the country's most selective colleges.

"What's nice about the surveys is that you not only get responses from your own students, but you also get to compare the responses to those of other student bodies," said Michael Behnke, vice president of the College and the University liaison to COFHE.

This is not the first COFHE survey in which the U of C has participated. Previous surveys targeted not only students, but also parents and alumni. The U of C completed a similar survey for enrolled students two years ago, but since the campus has undergone major changes such as significant dormitory and athletic facility construction, this year's survey is expected to reflect people's opinions regarding the changes.

"It's very useful to see how perceptions change over time," Behnke said.

According to Behnke, previous COFHE surveys have instigated major changes at the University. The expansion of Career and Placement Services, the increase in study abroad opportunities, and certain campus renovations have all been the results of previous surveys, Behnke said.

"It's the ammunition to marshal change," Behnke said. "In the six years that I've been here, I've seen enormous changes and many of those were the results of the data we've gotten from these surveys."

The surveys also help the U of C decide its budget allotments to various University programs.

The University is consequently urging students to take the survey seriously.

"I find that whenever we have the opportunity to survey our students, it's extremely helpful as one of the ways we seek student input into our decisions," said Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life and associate dean of the College.

A large part of the survey, however, focuses on how students finance their education, and anticipated tuition increases for next year have recently caused interest on campus. "I'm very concerned with the rising tuition costs, and I think that the administration should be aware of that," said Carolyn Kelly, a second-year in the College. "My hope is that they realize that the drastic tuition increases at Chicago and across the country are unreasonable."

Traditionally, the area of academics has ranked high among students and alumni. Compared to other universities nationwide, U of C students have continually felt better prepared academically, Behnke said.

This year's survey results are expected to attest to the high standards to which the College holds itself, but administrators are preparing for different types of results. "If the surveys show something different, we need to think about what the expectations should be. We make a point in our admissions literature to show that our students know how to think analytically--we hope that these results will confirm that," Behnke said.

As an additional incentive for students to complete the surveys, the U of C is offering 20 $50 gift certificates to randomly selected participants. However, administrators hope that the largest motivation for students is to experience the benefits that the results of the survey will have on College policies and student life.

"The surveys are important not only because they tell us what our students are thinking, but also because they provide us with a comparative link to other universities," Michel said.

Students have until Tuesday, March 11 to complete the survey.