Ann Stehney, vice president for institutional research and planning at Fairfield University in Connecticut, plays favorites when it comes to CIRP surveys. While Stehney uses and values other CIRP surveys too, including the Freshman Survey, Your First College Year and the HERI Faculty Survey, she has a soft spot for the College Senior Survey (CSS).
Q: Why has the CSS been so beneficial to Fairfield?
A: It’s our only systematic way to determine the effect we’ve had on our students. It gives us a rich and comprehensive view into our campus culture and how it affects students’ sense of belonging to the campus community. We can see how that evolves from beginning of their college experience to the end of it. It’s incredible to see the trends take shape as students progress through the university.
Q: What are some campus issues that CSS data has helped to highlight?
A: We’ve been looking at issues like diversity and university mission and identity. A previous area of focus was on our core curriculum. In 2006, we used The Freshman Survey, Your First College Year and the College Senior Survey along with an in-house junior- and- alumni survey to find out the perceptions of our core curriculum, which was a very big focus of our strategic plan at the time.
Q: How have you used the CSS to inform campus initiatives?
A: We’ve done focus groups entirely guided by the CSS to inform discussion on a variety of topics, including study abroad and internship, core curriculum and satisfaction questions relating to courses, majors and the overall college experience , including would they choose Fairfield again.
Q: How do you get students to participate in the CSS?
A: We tell students that they should do the survey before they pick up their cap and gown. We don’t force them to participate, but we make things a bit more convenient if they do. In addition to an email invitation, we post reminders on Facebook, Twitter, and Fairfield’s own information site. We have a high participation rate, 85% to 90%, even last year when we administered the CSS on paper. It was labor intensive — offering students a choice of 10 sessions — but worth it. We have found that when you ask students for their opinion on something, do it in a serious way and show it really matters to us, they’re willing to do it.