Climate Survey Results Released, Shed Light on Student Experience

The preliminary results of the Colgate Campus Life Survey (CCLS) have become available since its administration last month. The study, similar to an earlier version conducted in 2003, is highly Colgate-specific and hopes to gauge the student experience on campus. Overall, the student body has shown to be generally happy with the Colgate climate, but when students are broken down into categories based on characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic level, significant differences start to emerge. While it is too early to draw many conclusions, the researchers have high hopes for the implications of the study.

The CCLS was designed to both analyze how students feel about their campus and to implement changes based on the results. According to a document provided by lead experimenters Associate Professor of Sociology Carolyn Hsu and Assistant Professor of Psychology Landon Reid, “The results offer insights regarding which students are being well served by the institution and which are not.”

Moreover, the results shed light on how the characteristics of students — such as race, gender, religion, academics, etc. — affect their Colgate experience.

Hsu explained how the survey utilized subcategories for the topics it sought to research. In other words, a similar question was asked in several different ways and students were asked to agree or disagree on a scale of one to seven. The method ensured that the questions were asked effectively, and helped to identify students who were inconsistent in their answers. The preliminary results were represented on this one to seven scale.

The 2003 CCLS reported the general campus climate to be at 5.2. This year’s study reports that the current campus climate is at 5.5. While it is tempting to claim that the campus climate has improved over time, the researchers note that the CCLS was not a longitudinal study and therefore such a conclusion is faulty. Regardless, the overall campus climate has reported a satisfying figure that shows the study body to be quite pleased with Colgate.

Other preliminary data begins to look at the campus climate in terms of certain student characteristics. The general campus climate by race has shown white students to be at 5.7, the highest among racial groups. Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans all show a similar positive response. The African American population, however, shows a significantly different response with a figure of 4.3, much lower than the other racial groups. Although much data remains to be examined, it already appears that the reaction to the Colgate climate is drastically different for some groups than for others. These groups were chosen to coincide with the categories Colgate offers on its application. However, the 2003 write-ins had many students wondering why more specific categories were not examined, such as one for Middle Eastern students. Hsu, although sympathetic, argued that the only way to accurately know what percentages of students were represented in the survey was to utilize the figures and thus the categories that are given by Colgate on their application.

Broken down by socio-economic status, the general campus climate showed that students who come from wealthier families are more pleased with their Colgate experience. The data shows a near perfect linear relationship between the variables. Students who place themselves in the lowest socio-economic class score at 4.1, whereas those who qualify as most wealthy score at 5.6.

The preliminary campus climate data by gender and sexual orientation was also released. By gender, males and females were not statistically different, reporting figures at 5.6 and 5.5, respectively. Those who identified as “other” were reported at 4.5. By sexual orientation, heterosexuals are more pleased at Colgate than homosexuals and bisexuals, both of which groups reported similar scores.

Again, Hsu and Reid stress that these results are merely preliminary and that what is reported here is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more domains and demographic categories have yet to be examined and compared. With 61 percent of the student body responding to this most recent survey, compared to the 41 percent in 2003, there is an overwhelming amount of data to be considered. What is more, many more students completed the write-in section of this year’s CCLS.

“It’s actually incredibly encouraging to see this many kids writing in from this many perspectives and really seeing this huge diversity of views at Colgate,” Hsu said.

Hsu and Reid insist that the write-ins will not be overlooked, and that those of the 2003 study played a huge role in shaping this year’s CCLS. For example, many students wrote in about examining climate based on political views in order to investigate whether or not Colgate has a liberal bias.

“These questions and the wording of a number of questions throughout the survey was really in direct response to the questions of social and political conservatives who were interested in finding out how their experience was at Colgate,” Reid said.

The preliminary data has shown that conservative-minded students report a more positive response to the climate than liberal-minded students.

The researchers project that more definitive answers will be available by the fall of 2009. They plan to create a website showing the trends. Until then, they will be busily at work trying to analyze the data. They hope that once all the data is compiled, students, faculty and administration alike will be able to use the findings to improve the campus climate at Colgate.

“Our slogan for this entire project was ‘Be Heard.’ [This] project provides an opportunity for students to have their experiences heard at every level of the institution, and this is really the first step in that hearing,” Reid said.