Student participation is critical to the success of your survey administration. Simply put, the more respondents you have, the more confidence you have that your results accurately represent your student body. Many institutions struggle with the challenges associated with obtaining a satisfactory response rate. But there are strategies and efforts that can be undertaken on campus to increase response rates both before and during survey administration.
Of course, every campus will want to take some time to assess their culture and determine the best way to reach their students. What works on one campus might not be successful or even possible at another. While there is no single magic bullet that will increase response rates, research (Dillman, 2007) does denote several factors that contribute to higher response rates:
• Perceived importance of the survey (value to the student, perceived legitimacy)
• Level of interest students have in the research
• Trust that the data will be used and maintained properly
• Perception of reward for participation
• Minimizing respondent burden
These factors are worth thinking about as you plan your survey administration and promotion. Survey publicity (flyers, tweets and Facebook posts) and incentives can reinforce the message to students that the results from the survey are valued and used on campus. Some specific suggestions include:
1) Invitations-Know your students and what they will likely read. Incoming first years are likely to respond to emails and announcements that come from visible administrators (Dean of Students, President), a prominent faculty member in first year programming, or academic advisor. While there is information about the survey that must be included in invitation and reminder communication, do give some thought to the tone of these communications. Invitations should be welcoming and written with the student audience in mind. You might also consider mentioning the survey or even including the survey along with other orientation materials.
2) Incentives-Again here is an area where it pays to know your students. Some campuses offer a small incentive (gift card, t-shirt) to each participant before or as the survey is administered. Other campuses choose to offer a small incentive (music downloads, gift cards) to each student who completes the survey. Finally, some campuses offer a lottery or drawing for a larger prize (free or subsidized parking, tickets to sporting events) Because incentives are one area where just because it “worked” last year does not guarantee it will work again this year, do ask current students what would be valuable incentives for survey participation.
3) During survey administration, actively monitor response rates and troubleshoot accordingly. Are students getting the invitation and reminders-do they check those mailboxes/emails? Are the invitations and reminders timed so that they are not likely to be seen as spam or junk mail, and not one of many emails received from the campus that day? Do you need to target reminders to a specific group of students or reword them to emphasize that those who started but not completed the survey are still welcome to do so? If you wait until after the final reminder is sent out to look at your response rates, it is too late to make adjustments.
4) Help students see the ways in which their participation matters. Consider advertisements, tweets and Facebook or website posts that that highlight a finding (“last year, 50% of incoming first years frequently revised their papers to improve their writing while seniors in high school”), illustrate how the results have been used in the past (“We have seen a consistent increase in the percentage of incoming first years who indicated they expected to work with a faculty member on research. As a result, we launched the Praxis Program which is designed to pair first year students and faculty together in mentored research”) , or what you are hoping to learn or change based on the results (“Results from the CIRP Freshman Survey help us …”)
5) Are other faculty and administrators aware the survey is in the field? Will they endorse participation if asked by a student or parent? Consider sending out an email to key faculty staff who are likely to interact with students during survey administration, making them aware that they survey is in the field, reminding them why it is important to your campus, and asking them for their help in emphasizing its importance with students.
For additional and more detailed information about response rates, please see Encouraging Survey Participation.