Survey measures undergrad experience for departments, faculty


What’s it like to be an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan? It would be impossible to read the minds of almost 28,000 undergraduate students, but the “University of Michigan Asks You” (UMAY) survey is the next best thing.

The survey, sponsored by the Office of the Provost, goes live every year after the end of spring break, collecting results to help departments and faculty across U-M better understand their students’ experiences.

The UMAY project website serves as the gateway for student access to the survey and to view selected findings from previous years.

The UMAY survey pops up as an email link in every undergraduate student’s inbox, and gives students the opportunity to weigh in on everything from classroom experience to campus climate and satisfaction in their chosen major. In offering this type of student experience survey, U-M participates in a consortium with several other major public research universities, including the University of California system.

The survey, first offered in 2009, continues to be inspired by a simple question: How can the university better understand and respond to undergraduate experience?

Karen Zaruba, assistant director for enrollment management and student surveys, and the survey administrator since its inception, says UMAY’s objective is to understand the student experience in the most focused way possible.

“We wanted something that would drill down to the college and department level, because that’s the intellectual home for a student. What happens to a student as an English major, for example, is important,” Zaruba says.

Once U-M receives the survey responses at the end of the summer, the Office of Budget and Planning organizes the data by topic and department. The result is an annual “six-page summary of responses for every single department. Whether it’s Asian studies or mechanical engineering. For every major out there, there’s a report on what the department’s students said,” Zaruba says.

In this way, once students fill out the survey, U-M departments can use the results to show students their voices were heard. At the heart of the survey effort is the “hope that the information can be used to better inform policy, programs and efforts for improvement on the campus,” Zaruba says. Analysis can also be performed on specific populations of students such as transfers, international students, first-generation in college, members of living-learning communities, or students living on campus, enabling the university to gain a more detailed and accurate picture of these students’ experience at U-M.

At the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, staffers use UMAY data in their initiatives to improve learning experiences across the university. Mary Wright, director of assessment at CRLT and an associate research scientist, says that CRLT’s efforts have benefited from the UMAY results.

One project that was funded by the Provost’s Learning Analytics Taskforce looked at “Registrar data about key LSA requirements,” aligning it with UMAY data about students’ reported learning gains. “For example, do students who fulfilled their LSA Quantitative Reasoning (QR) requirement report higher gains in quantitative skills from their time at U-M, compared to students who did not?”

Wright says that the UMAY data “line up with other measures of student performance.”

CRLT currently is in the process of developing an “assessment toolkit” with LSA to give LSA departments even more direct access to UMAY data. The toolkit will give departments the ability to “pull up information for students in the major — for example, they could see student feedback about opportunities for research experiences, access to classes, or perceived learning gains in a number of areas,” Wright says. Empowered by this information, faculty could then maintain or adjust the major accordingly.

With an impressive variety of data, the survey results support and inspire faculty and departments across the university, Zaruba says. In one example, she says, UMAY data is incorporated in international graduate student instructor training. As a result, these new Wolverines gain a picture “of what U-M students are like.”