‘Climate survey’ shows satisfaction

African-American students are less impressed with the University’s diversity than white students; online students experience fewer threats to their physical safety; the longer you’re at the University, chances are the less excited you are to be here; and members of the University rate their campus climate somewhere between “fair” and “good.”

Those are just a few of the findings the University released on Friday as a result of its first-ever “climate survey,” an online census that was sent to 106,286 students, faculty and staff involved at one of the University’s three campuses and other satellite locations. A total of 17,167 — 16 percent — of those people chimed in, answering questions that ranged from “how excluding or including” faculty member’s department are, to how easy it is for students to get financial aid. But the central thesis of the survey, open from Oct. 26 to Dec. 2, focused on the University’s newly coined definition of climate: the “atmosphere of an organization as perceived by its members.”

“One very important thing is that the climate is overall positive. Frankly, it’s a good thing to know,” Christophe Pierre, the University’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, said. “It’s not something I would have taken for granted.”

The composite analysis of responses showed, among other things, that members of this particular organization rate their campus at 3.7 on a 1-to-5 scale, with three being the survey’s “midpoint.” The report released Friday also contains a swath of information specific to each campus, and the University of Illinois overall, slicing data by age, race, sexuality and other demographics.

According to Marilyn Marshall, Director of Academic Programs and Services, the price tag for this data is $152,300, That money went into contracting the Chicago campus’ Survey Research Laboratory, although Marshall said many others were involved in the designing and planning process.

A FAQ on the “survey’s website”:uillinois.edu/climatesurvey said that “the data will be used to make recommendations on how the University can address the concerns raised by respondents and maintain the strengths that respondents indicate the University has.”

“This is only the beginning,” Pierre said.

While the report released Friday takes into account a number of demographics, as well as comparisons between the campuses, it’s decidedly mum on analysis that goes directly into individual campus units, like schools, colleges and departments. Yet many of the questions were geared directly toward the departments of survey respondents, asking about inclusiveness and diversity of units.

Pierre said the University is reluctant to go deeper into smaller units, but does want to break the survey down to at least a college-specific level.

“The numbers don’t tell it all. … We want to look at areas where a small number of employees think there’s a specific problem,” Pierre said. “We’re not saying everything is rosy.”

Tim Johnson, director of the Survey Research Laboratory, said another barrier to releasing more specific information is the confidential nature of the survey. More specific information could point to a particular person matching certain demographics, he said.

Before they get into those more targeted data, however, Pierre said significant work is ahead in interpreting this round of analysis.

Some of those findings indicate that minorities, with the exception of Asians, have, on average, a poorer outlook of the University. And while African-American students, on average, rated the presence and respect for diversity on the campus significantly lower than their white classmates; they, along with Hispanic students, apparently rate their balance of workload and life much better.

Another interesting point was the higher ratings given by students who take their classes online. They rated the overall climate of the University highest — 4.0 on the 1-to-5 scale — a theme that was replicated through a number of criteria the survey measured.

“(Online students) seem to be more content, have more interactions with professors, be more in control of their environment that’s familiar to them, than students on campus,” Pierre said.

About 13 percent of the Urbana campus’ students participated in the survey. With his laboratory taking into account non-response biases and measurement errors, Johnson said despite the low turnout for the survey, which went as low as 7.6 percent among students at the Chicago campus, the results are still statistically and realistically significant.

“It’s a low response rate, but quite frankly, not very much different from other web surveys,” he said.

Still, the way the survey was conducted may indicate the other motivations for the University’s first survey of every student and employee.

“There had been a lot of discussion about doing a random sample that we would follow up with intensely,” Johnson said, citing a method that would have resulted in a higher response rate, and possibly more accurate data. “This is more of a census. The president thought that was very important, where everyone would have the opportunity to have their say.”