Teaching Today's Students

Trick or Treat

by Steve Sanchez, Assistant Provost

Since this blog entry was due on Halloween, I thought it might be appropriate to share a “treat” from recent research conducted by SLU’s Office of Institutional Research (OIR) on the experiences of SLU undergraduates.  The “trick” part of all this is regularly and intentionally acting on the research data to improve those student experiences.

In Spring 2015, about one-third of SLU’s “traditional” undergraduate students (that excludes students enrolled in 1818, ESL, the School for Professional Studies, the Madrid campus, and those not seeking a degree) participated in what was called a “Student Satisfaction Survey.”  But fear not: this was not the typical survey of student satisfaction; there were no questions about parking or food service on campus, or other such superficial measures of satisfaction.  We also were not trying to have, as an end goal, some sort of summative statement about how many, or what percent, of SLU undergrads were “satisfied” with their SLU experience; that kind of data is fairly meaningless in terms of informing faculty and staff about what is working (or not), and how we can improve.  In fact, the whole point of the research was to learn – at a fairly deep and complex level — what constitutes “satisfaction” in the undergraduate experience at SLU, and how what constitutes satisfaction manifests in student retention.

I’ll spare you the impressive but complicated details of the survey methods, data analysis techniques, etc.  Thankfully, my colleagues in OIR who did the heavy lifting on this did some excellent work, and they can elaborate on the specifics (feel free to contact me directly for more information).  In short, what the data show quite demonstrably are that the primary drivers of student satisfaction are how students feel about their:

  • Social Integration
  • Learning
  • Engagement in Mission-Focused Work
  • Faculty Support

These have been presented in priority order.  In other words, the most powerful driver of undergraduate student satisfaction at SLU is the extent to which students felt they were well-integrated, socially, in the SLU community.   How “social integration” was defined for this study, as well as how the other primary drivers were defined, is offered in the table below:


An important part of the research data is what were explicitly not found to be primary drivers of student satisfaction:

  • Financial Concerns
  • Advising
  • ACT scores
  • SLU GPAs
  • SLU College/School

In other words, some of the things that are often reported (on typical satisfaction surveys) by students as making them more or less “satisfied” with their college experience – cost issues, advising, and even their academic success (as measured by their GPA) – were, in this research, comparatively insignificant drivers of satisfaction.

Another key data element from a related OIR study is that student retention is also highly correlated with the same primary drivers of satisfaction identified in this study.

So what really matters to students are the attributes of the collegiate experience most of us would hope matter most:  students’ relationships (with each other, and with faculty and staff); being challenged, motivated, and supported by faculty; and students feeling that they contribute meaningfully to an institutional mission greater than their own academic or future professional successes.

In one sense, acting on this data – which is, after all, the point of any assessment effort – shouldn’t be all that tricky.  But it can be.  For example, here are some questions that we all would be well-served by thinking about more intentionally, perhaps even at regular intervals throughout the semester: how often do we intentionally and genuinely show students we care about their progress instead of merely informing them about their progress?  How often do we help students connect ideas from our classes to experiences outside of those classes, or to social issues meaningful to our students? How often do we, as faculty, intentionally welcome students into our various campus communities, and work to sustain their engagement with those communities?  How often do we intentionally and repeatedly frame our courses in the context of key elements of our institutional mission?  Or do we assume that’s what “Make a Difference Day” is for, or that connection to mission happens elsewhere?

Indeed, the trick behind the treat of this data is that we need to regularly examine our professional work and commit to the kind and level of intentionality required to ensure that all SLU students are deeply, and meaningfully, “satisfied” with SLU.


Steve SanchezDr. Sanchez is an Assistant Provost and is responsible for University-wide assessment of student learning and academic programs, the Office of Institutional Research, and the University’s charter school sponsorship efforts. He also serves as the institutional liaison to the Higher Learning Commission for University accreditation and as the Office of the Provost’s liaison with Information Technology Services. Dr. Sanchez is a member of the Undergraduate Academic Affairs Committee, the Undergraduate Initiatives Committee, and the Council of Academic Deans and Directors.