What I Like About Columbia is…

By BenitaZepeda

On Nov. 10, President Warrick L. Carter announced that the results of the 2009 Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory surveys were in, and that Columbia has improved on almost every scale since the last administration of the survey in 2007.

The Student Satisfaction Inventory surveys are conducted every other year, and in spring 2009, roughly 1,490 students were surveyed.  The survey results are then compared with previous survey results.  The categories are Columbia vs. peer institutions, which are other colleges and universities set in an urban environment, and Columbia vs. national averages.

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, said these results are very encouraging.

“I think that the entire college community and our students should be encouraged by what the results tell us,” Kelly said. “Six years ago, our students told us that they were dissatisfied by their overall experience at Columbia, and we have seen steady improvement.  This year, we have seen dramatic improvement.”

Kelly also said that the most important comparison to take note of is our comparison to peer institutions, which include schools such as the Illinois Institute of Art, Roosevelt University and Loyola University Chicago.

“We are literally compared to our peer group,” Kelly said. “With the comparison of arts college and urban college, our students are telling us that they are dramatically more satisfied than students at other places.”

The survey is broken down into 12 different categories, or scales, which at the start of the inventory are ranked by order of importance according to the student.

In order of importance according to the students surveyed, the various categories are: instructional effectiveness, academic advising, registration effectiveness, recruitment and financial aid, campus climate, concern for the individual, student centerdness, safetyand security, service excellence, campus support services, campus life and responsiveness to diverse populations.

In 10 of 12 categories, Columbia increased significantly since 2007, falling short in two categories—academic advising and recruitment and financial aid.

“It’s even more interesting that the one area we fall below our peer group is advising,” Kelly said. “In that area, we were already aware of the issue and have already put in place some dramatic changes. I think, without question, that when our students are surveyed again, that area will show up positive in comparison to our peer group.”

These changes in academic advising have consisted of assigning new students, both freshmen and transfer students, to their own college advisers. Any student with 45 credit hours or more will have a personal faculty adviser, which Kelly thinks will increase student satisfaction in the future.

The school has also addressed the issue of financial aid availability by increasing the amount of scholarships available to students this fall, which have doubled since fall 2007.

Kari Sommers, assistant dean of Student Life, said the college has been making a lot of changes to improve the overall

student experience.

“One of the key changes, and I think one of the most important changes, is how we communicate with students,” Sommers said.  “With Columbia as a vertical campus, with all these high-rise buildings, and the absence of one singular student center, we are moving toward the idea of creating a virtual student center.”

Sommers said that the development of Columbia’s online presence through The Loop and even the new Facebook application have been ways to inform students of what the college has to offer, and serve as an alternative platform for students to network with each other.

“When students are connected to each other, and connected to us, they tend to be happier and ultimately more successful,” Sommers said. “Much of the work we have been doing online is helping to increase student satisfaction, and of course ultimately retention.”

Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, said the No.  1 increase at the national level was safety and security along with campus support services.

“The safety and security numbers have significantly improved,” Berg said. “Campus safety and security has been very on top of their agenda, along with improving campus environment.”

Berg said that in 1998, safety and security was well below the national average, and the 2009 survey said that Columbia is now even with other institutions on a national level.

One area students reported slightly below was accessibility to parking at Columbia. Berg said that being an urban campus, it is important to recognize how well-served Columbia is by public transit.

“That is a really key part of being sustainable,” Berg said. “We are more transit-based than we are more car  and parking-based.”

Kelly said that even though there are still areas that need to be improved, Columbia has become a true campus community with students at the  center of it.

Columbia’s efforts to improve student satisfaction have shown through the surveys, and although it has been a significant and exciting improvement, Columbia recognizes these improvements need to be maintained.

“These outstanding results signal a true turning point in Columbia’s history,” Carter wrote in his announcement. “They confirm what we have long suspected—that Columbia has transformed from once being an institution that did great things, to now being a great institution.”