Student Satisfaction and the Bottom Line

Student Satisfaction and the Bottom LineIt takes courage to look criticism full in the face, but an honest assessment of a college’s student satisfaction level can offer valuable insight into student behaviors — and how those behaviors affect the bottom line.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s 2015-16 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Reportdelivers a national perspective on the correlation between satisfaction, enrollment, and retention. It also includes some surprisingly easy-to-implement recommendations for the less daunting issues.

The Economic Impact

Most notable is the direct effect that student satisfaction has on enrollment, retention, and alumni giving — essential income streams for most institutions. Previous studies show the correlation between student satisfaction and degree completion and alumni support. Dissatisfied students have a higher likelihood of transferring out or completing the degree but not supporting the institution as an alum. Tuition-dependent institutions must recognize the economic importance of student satisfaction or risk losing revenue from these critical revenue streams.

The Issues of Cost & Service

What exactly are students dissatisfied with? While it varies among institutional types, several issues stand out in their constancy:


The question of value persists and rightfully so (college is expensive!). When asked why they chose to enroll at a specific college, students stated these top factors:

  • Financial Aid awards (#1 at 4-year privates)
  • Cost (#1 at 4-year publics and community colleges)
  • Academic reputation (within top 3 of all 3)

Of course, reducing tuition and granting more aid are complex solutions that require long-term strategic planning. More immediately, though, you can market your academic reputation (your value proposition) in a way that today’s students will respond: via digital story campaigns.

Previous posts (including “The Power of the Human Story”) outline our natural inclination for stories, along with current students’ marketing preferences. Success can be told through short narratives (written or video), photos with captions, student & alumni spotlights, and more. Hearing a heart-felt narrative of an individual’s success is memorable. Having a bank of student and alumni stories showcases a college’s broad and diverse impact. The point is: success should be portrayed as a human endeavor and a story-telling campaign can accomplish this through many different forms.

The report’s “Takeaway” section also notes the value of fixing “little annoyances:” poor Wifi, bad signage, dead website links, etc. These things add up to a sub-par experience, making students feel as if they’re not getting their money’s worth.

Customer Service

Both the Academic Advising and Campus Climate sections struggle in the realm of customer service. Community college students, in particular, cite difficulties with academic advising. Their gap comes in their perception of the adviser’s knowledge and investment in student success. Right or wrong, the students’ perception must be addressed.

Along the same lines, students feel they are given the “run-around” on campus when trying to accomplish tasks. Again, this perception may or may not come from poor customer service; it might be a matter of making the campus’ many services better known to students — and streamlining processes.

Final Thought

Whether analyzing the Ruffalo Noel Levitz report or your institution’s individualized student satisfaction study, an honest assessment can reveal manageable fixes. Even in difficult economic times, a series of small adjustments can make a significant difference in students’ experience. And bringing a campus community together for an honest, judgement-free brainstorming session can enhance your sense of togetherness, as well as improve systems and services.

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