Behrend’s survey of graduating seniors

By Richard Hart, director, Lilley Library, Penn State Erie

For more than 20 years, Penn State Behrend has conducted a survey of its graduating seniors in order to measure their attitudes toward their college education. Originally administered through the Chancellor’s Office, in recent years the survey has been conducted by the College’s Institutional Research Committee. Among other things, the survey seeks information about the students’ satisfaction with their education, their post-graduation plans, and the degree to which they were challenged as students at Behrend.

Although it has been revised over the years, certain basic elements of the survey have remained relatively constant. Measuring student satisfaction with various campus offices, facilities, and services constitutes one of the central goals of the survey. Satisfaction is measured with a 5-point Likert-type scale. Included are the library, computing services, athletic facilities, the bursar, tutoring services, the bookstore, the registrar, residence life, food services, housing, and more, for a total of 26 items on the most recent survey.

In the 1990s the Lilley Library was rated on two survey questions – one for library collections, and one for library services. The scores were not good. In fact, they could not have been much worse. Of the 24 measures on the 1994 survey the “library collection” ranked first, and “library services” ranked third – for the greatest degree of dissatisfaction. This was in spite of the fact that a beautiful, new, three-story library building had opened for business the previous year. 39% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the collection and 26% were dissatisfied with the services. The response rate for that year was high — with 253 of 324 responding (78%). So the evidence seemed quite clear — students were not very happy with the library. Written comments about the library were numerous, mostly calling for improved collections.

The great benefit of these abysmal survey scores was the ammunition that they provided in making the case to the Behrend College and University Libraries’ administrations that funding for collections and staffing needed to be strengthened. With support from our administrators, collections were gradually strengthened, library hours were added, as were evening and weekend staffing and reference help. In subsequent years library scores on the senior survey gradually improved. Electronic resources came to play a huge role in our collections over the last two decades, and have no doubt had an impact on student satisfaction with the library. Other strategies and improvements have probably helped as well. In any event, the turnaround has been dramatic. Since 2005 the Lilley Library has consistently scored among the very highest rated services on campus. In 2011, the library was rated either “excellent” or “good” by 95% of survey respondents, placing us second among 26 campus services for greatest satisfaction.

The senior survey does not tell us what strategies have been effective in improving the satisfaction of our students. But the results do provide a barometer of student sentiment, and tend to indicate at least a general sense of how we measure up with the other services and offices on our campus. Over time, these results give us a sense of whether the changes that we institute and strategies that we employ are taking us in the right direction, using our new graduates as the judge of our efforts.