A major consideration for any assessment project is the timing of it. In fact, questions related to timing are some of the most common questions that Skyfactor’s Analytics & Research Team gets from clients. And, it’s a good question to ask. Considering the timing of your assessment is a crucial component of a good assessment project. Previously, our Director of Analytics & Research, Sherry Woosley, wrote about the timing of assessments, in particular whether or not there are advantages to surveying in fall versus spring.
While the particular timing of your assessment is important, so is the frequency. Another common questions we get from clients relates to how often to assess, in particular, if a benchmarking assessment should be administered every year. This question is especially common for campuses that have conducted benchmarking assessments for multiple consecutive years and say that, at a high level, the results simply don’t change that much.
There are certainly valid reasons for considering a shift to conducting a particular benchmarking assessment every other year or as part of a cycle. Cost, in particular, is one benefit. There is an assumption that, since the high-level results don’t change much from year to year, that an every-other-year approach will save money and provide a sufficient snapshot of any changes over time. And, campuses may save money or be able to triangulate data better by pulling in other assessments in the “off-years.”
But, there are real benefits to conducting a benchmarking survey each and every year that must be taken into consideration.
Annual benchmarking data allows a department to make a more compelling case for justifying particular needs. By breaking down results across campus, departments are more easily able to identify exactly where improvements should be made. For example, for a housing department looking to make a difference on facilities satisfaction, identifying specific buildings that need improvement (even something as simple as new paint in common areas) can go a long way.
Identifying issues not only at a granular level but also as they come up allow for campuses to justify changes, especially minor changes that can have an immediate impact. One of the common reason campuses administer a survey in fall versus spring is to allow time to react and implement changes during the current academic year that reflect the pressing needs of your current students. Surveying each year allows your campus to take quick action and make a difference.
One of the value points of benchmarking data is the ability to use data to motivate and excite staff. Many campuses use the ability to share reports to current staff as a mechanism to review performance and identify areas of improvement. And, since reports can be filtered to a population or area that is directly applicable to individual staff members, it makes the data more personal. Sharing filtered reports with residence hall directors, assistant directors of student activities, orientation leaders, and more, you can use annual results to motivate your staff and focus their efforts on areas that can make a difference.
Studying Smaller Populations
Annual surveys allow for opportunities to better focus on smaller populations. At the aggregate level, campus-level results may look really good! However, many benefit from using the survey to target specific populations to improve experiences more intimately. If you are using the survey on a yearly basis, you are better able to address issues that disproportionately affect smaller populations, as well as focusing on improvements to different, smaller populations each year.
Annual benchmarking data allow your campus to demonstrate the impact of your efforts each and every year. Our efforts to improve the student experience never stop. So, collecting data each year allows for better demonstration of the impact of particular efforts. The before and after snapshot of a new programming effort, targeted staff outreach, new learning outcomes, or facilities improvements are incredibly valuable to demonstrating that your efforts make a difference. If left to data collected only every few years, it’s more difficult to identify which efforts had an impact on the learning and satisfaction of your students.
Ultimately, collecting data annually allows for campuses to better tell a compelling data story highlighting their hard work. While those who work closely with student affairs departments understand the incredible impact of their efforts, compelling data points are necessary to justify resources, education external stakeholders, and justify efforts, in particular in a time where campuses are being asked to do more with less resources. Annual data collection empowers departments to tell a more impactful story of the hard work they do each and every year.
Whether to demonstrate the impact of efforts, justify resources, better identify needs, or continually motivate staff, there are significant benefits to collecting reliable and valid benchmarking data each year.