How’s your life going? The University Senate wants to know.
The senate’s Student Affairs Committee is planning to conduct a university-wide quality of life survey of Columbia’s more than 28,000 students next semester. The survey is still being designed, but according to School of International and Public Affairs master’s student Aly Jiwani, the chair of SAC’s quality of life subcommittee, senators want to “get a general sense of student satisfaction with their quality of life while at Columbia.”
The survey will not assess student satisfaction with specific offices or services. Rather, Jiwani said, it will ask broad questions on about a dozen key topics: finances, housing, academics, health, family life, transportation, safety, libraries, space, fitness, career preparation, student life/clubs, and administration.
The idea of a university-wide survey was pitched last spring by then-SAC co-chairs Alex Frouman, CC ’12, and Adeel Ahamed, Business ’12. Jiwani said that the committee’s goal is to “get the minimal actionable data that would help us drive further investigations” on a few of the aforementioned topics, adding that senators hope to conduct the survey every two years.
“To do it every two years means we’ll consistently be able to compare the data longitudinally and see what’s becoming better and what’s becoming worse,” he said.
The Student Affairs Committee has partnered with researchers affiliated with the Business School’s Behavioral Research Lab to design the survey. The lab runs out of a basement office in Uris Hall, where graduate students, professors, and postdoctoral researchers run studies and collect data on social phenomena.
“We’re helping with the design, making sure questions are not asked in a biased way,” said Ashley Martin, a doctoral student in the Business School’s management program and the research coordinator for the project. “We want to make sure things come across clear, concise, and interpretable to students.”
SAC is also working with the statistic department’s consulting service, which will analyze the data and help senators make sense of what it means.
The committee plans to start by sending the survey to a small group of students at the start of next semester, a pilot program that will allow it to revise the survey before sending it to the entire student body in April. Sending a survey to the entire student body won’t be easy, and SAC plans to work with Columbia University Information Technology, University President Lee Bollinger’s office, the Center of Institutional Research, Health Services, and professors from the Business School and the School of Social Work to coordinate distribution.
According to SAC co-chair Anjelica Kelly, this survey differs from quality of life surveys conducted recently by individual schools, including the School of General Studies and the School of Engineering and Applies Science, because “to date there has not been a comprehensive, campus-wide survey carried out to assess campus-wide quality of life at Columbia University.”
“We hope to capture student quality of life through qualitative and quantitative elements, and establish a baseline on a range of topics,” Kelly, a Business School student, said in an email. “We hope that the quality of life survey will last in perpetuity in order to serve as a benchmark to measure improvement or frustrations in the quality of life of all Columbia University students.”
While student experiences vary significantly depending on which school they attend, “we still contend that there are certain commonalities that we can survey,” Jiwani said. “The scope of the survey is broad. We’re not going to ask questions that only cater to specific sectors of the population.”