Monday, March 31, 2008

Measuring Student Satisfaction

By: Matthew Denhart, Robert Villwock, Jonathan Robe, and Daniel Bennett

In the previous blog we reported an entirely new university ranking system calculated using data from both and the 2008 edition of Who’s Who in America. Those results were telling, but it is interesting to also look at the results from only the data. These serve to indicate student (i.e. consumer) satisfaction with the product colleges and universities offer—faculty instruction.

These rankings are calculated by taking a weighted average of all faculty members at a university in the categories of: overall quality, average easiness (with ease treated as a negative quality), and average "hotness." While “hotness” may seem a bit irrelevant, we felt that it still is an indicator of consumer satisfaction. In the ranking "hotness" and easiness are weighted less than the figures for the overall rating of the professor's effectiveness.

The results show that on average students at liberal arts institutions are more satisfied with their professors than students at what US News and World Report terms “national universities.” In fact, of the top 25 of both school types combined, only 2 national universities (Boston College and Northwestern University) make the list. Furthermore, only 11 national universities make the top 50.
While this ranking is simply an indication of consumer satisfaction with professors, it is still interesting to also compare these with the USNWR rankings. Below are the CCAP top 15 national universities and top 15 liberal arts schools based on student satisfaction (per, with USNWR rankings in parentheses.

National Universities

1. Boston College (35)
2. Northwestern (14)
3. Harvard (2)
4. California Tech (5)
5. Princeton (1)
6. Samford (118)
7. U. of Chicago (9)
8. MIT (7)
9. Wake Forest (30)
10. Brigham Young University (BYU) (79)
11. Brown (14)
12. Yale (3)
13. U. of Pennsylvania (5)
14. Emory (17)
15. Stanford (4)

Liberal Arts Colleges

1. Wellesley (4)
2. U.S. Military Academy (22)
3. Wabash (52)
4. Whitman (37)
5. Bryn Mawr (24)
6. Carleton (5)
7. Swarthmore (3)
8. Barnard (30)
9. Earlham (69)
10. Harvey Mudd (15)
11. Middlebury (5)
12. Amherst (2)
13. Kalamazoo (67)
14. Lawrence U. (56)
15. Haverford (10)

Again the CCAP and USNWR rankings are fairly similar. Of the CCAP top 15 national universities, 10 of those are also in the top 15 of the USNWR rankings. Yet, some other schools—particularly Samford and BYU—rank much higher according to our student satisfaction rankings. The same is the case with liberal arts schools. A majority of the CCAP top 15 schools are also ranked in the top 15 by USNWR, but several others not as well ranked by USNWR appear on the CCAP list. These disparities show that what is traditionally believed to be important in determining a quality institution, is not always consistent with what satisfies students.

One of the oldest universities in the world, the University of Bologna chartered in 1158 by Frederick I Barbarossa, was designed to cater to student desires. Students collectively hired professors, set tuition rates, evaluated and even dismissed low-quality instructors. While we have moved away from that model (perhaps somewhat for the better) student instruction remains the primary function of a university. Faculty research and other things distract from this goal. Our findings that students at liberal arts colleges are more satisfied with their professors than those at national research institutions is not surprising. Perhaps it is time that our national research universities shifted priorities more toward satisfying high paying customers. Since students are the main consumers of the university product, any ranking of schools should include a student satisfaction variable.

Matthew Denhart, Robert Villwock and Jonathan Robe are undergraduate students and Daniel Bennett a graduate student at Ohio University, and all are research associates at CCAP.

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