Last month, we published a report based on the findings of a survey of over 10,000 students at seven community colleges. While the project itself is aimed at better understanding the needs, goals, and challenges of students, and assessing demand for a number of services that might support their success, a helpful byproduct of this research is what we have uncovered in administering a survey to this population. Today we are publishing a new report on the survey administration practices employed in this project and lessons learned along the way.

Little research to date has been published on practices for bolstering survey engagement within the community college sector. But the risks of not understanding and effectively engaging with any target population are clear: low response rates and skewed sample parameters can introduce bias and error, decreasing generalizability and representativeness.

Our survey had a healthy response rate of about 12 percent, and we attribute that success to best practices gleaned from previous projects as well as some of the trial and error we learned along the way with our current partner institutions. The report looks specifically at how we contacted students and what types of incentives encourage participation. Is using an institutional email address more effective than sending an invite through a personal email address? Do students prefer a lottery for Visa gift cards or Amazon gift cards?

What did we find? Above all, local context matters–there often just isn’t a one-size-fits-all conclusion for every institution. However, there are clear steps that colleges can broadly take to understand their context and employ the best strategies to drive survey response rates. Many of these practices have previously led to successful outcomes in other projects, like the Ithaka S+R local surveys, including:

  • Requesting information from institutional databases early
  • Meticulously cleaning lists used to contact survey invitees
  • Contacting survey invitees at key times of day and week
  • Personalizing survey invitations and reminder messages
  • Employing strategically selected signatories for survey messages

How do these strategies and results align with the communication approaches employed with your student populations? What new approaches might you employ based on the findings? We look forward to hearing from you and encourage commenting below.