Student surveys give students the opportunity to evaluate their college directly. They may be a useful tool for colleges to receive valuable feedback and make needed improvements. However, the problem with using student surveys to determine national college rankings is that students often do not evaluate effectively. Rankings should be based on other criteria.
Student surveys are not accurate because students are usually relatively inexperienced in evaluation and may not be sufficiently subjective. For example, a student may give a college an overly-high evaluation because it is a prestigious college. In this case, the student does not evaluate subjectively but simply wishes to preserve the college’s prestige. Equally possible is that a student could give a college an overly-negative evaluation because of one negative experience such as a difficult course or high tuition fees.
Also, a student’s evaluation may be clouded by very personal experiences. It often happens that as long as a student receives a good grade in a course, the student gives the professor a good evaluation. Likewise, if a student receives a bad grade in a course, the student often gives the professor a bad evaluation. This is unfair because the good grade does not necessarily indicate that the professor taught the course well and the bad grade does not always imply that the professor taught the course poorly. Unfortunately, many students do not accept sufficient responsibility for their studies and may be to quick to blame or praise their professors.
In the same way that students often do not evaluate their professors subjectively nor accurately, they may do the same with their college. Their evaluation may be influenced by factors which professional evaluators would not consider very relevant. These factors could include the quality of cafeteria food, the dating scene, the number of clubs, the number of sports championships and campus activities. Professor evaluators would focus on areas such as the number of departments and courses offered, academic excellence of the professors, number of visiting scholars, number of students per classroom, quality of research produced, amount of university funding and library resources. Thus, the evaluation criteria of a student and a professional evaluator could be very different.
Student surveys would be inadequate because they would not reflect the information necessary to rank a college properly. They would reflect students’ satisfaction with professors and courses, but would give no indication of the college’s financial resources, average entering grades of students, actual classroom sizes and number of new professors hired. These are very important factors for rankings colleges relative to one another. Without this critical information, student survey could not be reliable for rational college rankings.
Student surveys are useful for determining students’ level of satisfaction with their particular college, but should not be used to determine national college rankings. Many students have little experience with evaluation and are overly influenced by their own personal experiences. Student surveys do not assess factors which are very important for ranking colleges such as entering grades of students and budget sizes. For this reason, student surveys should never be used to determine the respective ranking of colleges. However, they could merit partial consideration for evaluating colleges because they would be a good indicator of student satisfaction.