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College surveys shape Mills policy

Mills relies in part on information from student surveys to make important changes in the way the college functions each year.

The Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Academic Assessment sends these students surveys via e-mail in order to gather information about the  Mills community.

The office is run by Alice Knudsen, Director of Institutional Research, and Talia Friedman, Research Analyst. They are responsible for sending the surveys out to students and processing the results.

“We do approximately 12 surveys a year. Some surveys we do every year. Some show up once every two or three years,” Friedman wrote in an email. “Most are geared toward specific populations, like only graduating seniors or transfer students or sophomores and juniors, so no one population actually receives all the surveys.”

According to Knudsen and Friedman, the goal of having the surveys are to know how Mills ranks among other schools, what is happening in the Mills community and how the data can be used to improve the college.

The data collected through the surveys, according to Knudsen, are also presented to committees such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which determines whether or not Mills will continue to be an accredited college.

“Last year, WASC was reviewing Mills,” Knudsen said. “They were very pleased with the data and changes based in the data.”

Some of Knudsen’s responsibilities are to try to get students to participate in the surveys. Once the information is received, she figures out where the community can be improved and gives the data to the appropriate committee.

Friedman stated, “We are not really responsible for program changes but to say, Look: Here’s an issue. There are committees that deal with the data and decide what to do.”

In Mills’ most recent strategic plan, student surveys were used to determine how to improve retention rates.

The surveys determined that one of the biggest factors keeping students at Mills was the amount of financial assistance students receive. Knowing this, the college has kept providing adequate financial aid a priority.

After efforts have been made to improve what is needed, Knudsen recollects the data to see whether there is a difference.

The surveys are produced by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, according to Knudsen.

Mills uses the surveys from UCLA. When Mills can’t get the information it needs from the UCLA surveys,  Mills’ Office of Institutional Research creates its own surveys.

Some of the surveys created specifically for Mills include surveys to understand how transfer students and graduate students see their experience Mills.

With students consumed by their schedules, many have a hard time finding time to take the surveys.

“Surveys annoy me because you only have so much time to do homework and I see no purpose in them,” said sophomore Natalie Diaz.

Having few students take the surveys hinders their purpose. “The surveys are only useful data if the students take it,” Friedman said.

Friedman and Knudsen are trying to get more students to respond to their surveys.

The office gives away a prizes to some students who participate in the survey in order to attract more participation. The prizes for participating in the newest survey, the Diverse Learning Environments Survey for sophomores and juniors, were two $100 gift cards to the Tea Shop and a grand prize drawing
of $300.

Gladys Dulay, a first-year student, said of the most recent survey, “I took it twice, during orientation and then again when it was on a posting for student news because they had a prize.”

According to Friedman, at least 50 percent of Mills students responded to the surveys sent out, but their goal is to have 60-70 percent participation.

Both students and faculty participate in the surveys.

“Faculty are much better at responding,” said Knudsen.

Comparing this information helps Friedman and Knudsen understand how students and faculty view their engagement with one another.

For example, one survey question for students is: “How often do you write a paper?” The faculty survey would have a similar question: “How often do you assign papers?”

Friedman and Knudsen realize students want to know what happens with the surveys they take, which is why they hope that in the future they can find some way to show and share the data they collect.

“The information is public. We just haven’t figured out how to get the information to them,” said Friedman. “We’re a tiny staff and not sure on the right platform in which to get the data out there.”