Measuring the WUSTL undergraduate experience

New committee to develop centralized approach

How satisfied are you with your experience at Washington University?
How satisfied are you with your experience at Washington University?
How satisfied are you with your experience at Washington University?

According to Timothy J. Bono, PhD, assistant dean and lecturer of psychology in Arts & Sciences, a WUSTL undergraduate might see this question three times in three separate surveys over the course of one week. Student survey fatigue is just one of the issues a new WUSTL committee will explore as it analyzes current university assessment methods.

CAUSE — the Committee for the Assessment of the Undergraduate Student Experience — began meeting biweekly in early February. The 15-person committee was established in an effort to more thoroughly and accurately measure the WUSTL undergraduate student experience.


Bono, the committee chair, says although many campus departments and offices regularly survey students, there really hasn’t been a coordinated effort to collect and share data in a way that is beneficial to the university as a whole.

Over the next several months, the group will be working with departments and offices across campus, exploring assessment methods at peer institutions and creating a centralized assessment method. The committee will coordinate WUSTL assessment efforts, educate the campus community and keep an archive of existing and prior assessments.

Tentative plans call for the development of an assessment resource website; student data collection in the fall of 2012; and an assessment symposium — to share the results universitywide — in spring of 2013.

“At that time, we’ll be in a position to communicate our findings,” Bono says, “which, we hope, will be valuable to the community. We’ll have the numbers and the tools to tell our story in a more systematic, coherent way.”

Bono says the impetus for the group began last summer at the recommendation of the late James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.

‘Critical’ to strategic plan

Senior administrators say that a more efficient, thoughtful approach to student assessment is critical as the university moves forward in its strategic plans.

“The goal is to gather insightful, substantive feedback from students,” says Jill Carnaghi, PhD, associate vice chancellor for students and dean of campus life. “This will help us evaluate our programs, set priorities and better understand how we can continue to enhance the undergraduate experience.”

In addition to Bono, the steering committee includes: Danielle Bristow, First Year Center; Mike Hayes, Campus Life; and Jim Davis, PhD, professor emeritus of political science and coordinator of special projects.

Other members of the committee include: Larry Handlin, Cornerstone; Jason Marquart, Office for International Students and Scholars; Kris Kerth, College of Arts & Sciences; Joy Kiefer, Office of Undergraduate Research; Shruti Desai, Office of Residential Life; Betsy Foy, Student Health Services; Leslie Heusted, Danforth University Center/event management; Shiloh Venable, Community Service Office; Steve Malter, Olin Business School; Aimee Wittman, Career Center; and Cris Baldwin, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

Maximizing Student Voice

Bono says the group will be looking to maximize the effectiveness of its current assessment tool, Student Voice, and setting usage guidelines.

In the 8 years since the university purchased the tool, more and more users have been granted access to the database system, resulting in 168 accounts across 86 departments. By having access to the system, those 168 users were permitted to send questions to students at any time.

Bono now has culled that number down to 55. He notes that students are less likely to take the time to give useful feedback if they are dealing with a barrage of questions. Some individual offices send out lengthy surveys; others ask a couple questions at a time.

Often the exact same question is being asked repeatedly, Bono says. Part of the committee’s work will be to compare those surveys and look for patterns.

A more coordinated, collaborative effort may yield a better result for all campus partners. “We’ll certainly be thinking about whether we need gatekeepers to the survey process,” Bono says, adding that, “People across campus have been very enthusiastic. There is a lot of backing.”

The group will create a common calendar to track when surveys are being distributed and to help pinpoint particularly busy times in students’ lives when surveys should be avoided.

Bono says the group also will be a resource for anyone who may need assistance creating a survey, and will sponsor workshops and other educational opportunities. The committee also will consider other assessment tools, such as focus groups and rubrics.

Bono has been working closely with Lynn McCloskey, assistant provost, who administers the annual PULSE (Perceptions of Undergraduate Life and Student Experiences) survey and tracks trends over time. The two are discussing how to dovetail assessment efforts.

Tracking progress

By creating an archive of existing and prior assessments, the university will be better equipped to link results to Strategic Plan outcomes and identify areas that still require evaluation.

“Our findings will allow us to gauge how well we are keeping on task toward the priorities that were outlined in the university’s Strategic Plan,” Bono says. “The university will be up for reaccreditation in 2014 and the work of this committee will play a key role in writing our self-study for the Higher Learning Commission.”

For more information, contact Bono at or (314) 935-3531.