Exit survey signals need for more student feedback

By Editorial Board

The Office of Institutional Effectiveness has released results from an exit survey that was emailed to graduating students last spring. The survey, available on the website of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, included questions regarding the college’s faculty, curriculum and technology, as well as its reputation with working professionals and how well it prepares graduates for the workplace. The 2015 responses were significantly more negative than a similar survey from 2013: of 26 areas covered in both surveys, improvement was only recorded in six—all of which are categorized as “professional development.” When asked if they would recommend Columbia to a friend with similar interests, only 67 percent of 2015 graduates said yes—a 10 percent decline.

The student dissatisfaction evidenced in the survey is not surprising considering the class of 2015 graduated in the midst of controversy and change. Students were asked to take the survey throughout April and May, just as the SaveColumbia campaign, a coalition to protest collegewide changes, was gaining attention. The First-Year Seminar program had been eliminated in mid-March to make way for the revamped First-Semester Experience program. The five-year Strategic Plan was being revised,  foreshadowing drastic changes and budget cuts throughout campus.

One of the most concerning aspects of the survey is the responses regarding services offered by the college. When asked where they received career support at Columbia, 13 percent of students surveyed named the Portfolio Center. Only two percent said they found their current job through ColumbiaWorks, the college’s virtual job and internship portal. Five percent credited Columbia’s alumni network. 

The college’s “About Columbia” website page claims that Columbia offers “abundant internships” and  “opportunities to connect with industry professionals,” but only 19 percent of graduates reported having an internship while in college. The survey results also revealed only 50 percent of graduating seniors reported internship opportunities were available to them in 2015, compared to 65 percent of graduates in 2013.  

The survey of last year’s graduates is just one indicator of the level of student engagement, as it represents the experiences only of those responding. Thus one should probably not read too much into the results. 

The administration should be congratulated for releasing the 2015 graduating student survey data. It is a meaningful step forward, as it helps the college form a basis for dialogue with its students and alumni. However, more can be done. 

As reported in the story on page 3, the administration declined to disclose what other surveys the college administers throughout a student’s career at Columbia. Other survey responses are not available online. 

If such information exists, it should be available to the student body to gain a more complete picture of student satisfaction at Columbia.  

In addition, regularly scheduled town hall forums between the administration and the student body would give the college valuable feedback regarding student experiences. Fostering better communication will reassure current and graduating students that the college values their input.