Using Senior Exit Survey Results to Inform Program Decisions (School of Biological Sciences)

Senior exit surveys and interviews give students an opportunity to “weigh in” on their undergraduate experiences. Questions may include those about curriculum, faculty, offices and services, social opportunities, and career preparation. Academic programs can use students’ responses to inform decisions and improve student learning.

The School of Biological Sciences (SBS) has conducted exit surveys or interviews with graduating seniors for over five years. Their goal is to understand students’ perceptions of strengths and weaknesses of the program, and to get student input on how to adjust to make the program more effective. Larry Hufford, Director of the School of Biological Sciences, describes the practice as “very informative.” Based on what they have learned from students’ feedback along with other information, the program has made the following adjustments:

  • created workshops for students on research and career opportunities,
  • shifted teaching assignments,
  • worked with individual faculty to make adjustments to courses, and
  • made other curricular adjustments.

The School’s director initially met with students face-to-face. However, face-to-face interviews were time-consuming, making it challenging to meet with all graduates. Since information that came from the interviews was entirely qualitative, analysis of the student responses was also time-consuming. To make the information easier to summarize and to ensure that data was available to program faculty in a timely manner, SBS decided to adapt the interview to a survey format, which they began using in spring 2015.

SBS’ program leadership on both campuses from which the degree is offered and an ATL Assessment Specialist collaborated in the design of survey questions. The current survey includes questions about student background and goals, course experiences, students’ confidence in their ability on program-level student learning outcomes, participation in research and extracurricular activities, advising, and mentoring. In addition to general program questions, the survey also includes branching to campus-specific questions. Survey questions are periodically reviewed and revised in light of student responses. The survey is in Qualtrics, the survey system available to and recommended for WSU programs.

Although it takes students only 5-10 minutes to complete the survey, it provides SBS with a wealth of useful feedback from students. Through a link provided to students when they apply for graduation, they can easily access the survey on their phones, desktops, or other devices. Since response rate is important, SBS made the survey a graduation requirement (passed through Faculty Senate).

If you are interested in designing or redesigning a senior exit survey for your students or just learning more about senior exit surveys, please contact one of ATL’s Assessment Specialists.