Here’s an overview of the different surveys we conduct and the general timelines for each.
This is a periodic ‘report card’ as graded by those who pay the overwhelming proportion of your operating costs. In a nutshell, we’re taking measure of how well you are performing in the care of their children and their families. This online survey should be conducted on a three-year cycle, enabling you and your colleagues: to absorb and digest the results from the first survey; to develop a game plan on how to respond; to implement that plan; and to have the parent body actually perceive your response before you take measure again. More frequent surveys would likely result in imperceptible changes in ratings. Give yourself a chance to respond, and at the same time, to stay close to the market served. This survey provides primary input into ongoing strategic planning efforts. Participation rates should be in the range of 60% and up. Questionnaire length will be in the 120-130 question range and should involve 15-20 minutes for the typical respondent. For day schools, any uninterrupted collection period of about six weeks, with weekly reminders, launched between the beginning of November and the middle of May is fair game. Boarding schools would need to wait until January for the launch, providing the opportunity to have students go home in December to share their experiences with their parents.
This survey is like the parent survey (with some overlap in content), but directed at the ‘first person’ recipient of your services, rather than the indirect measure of the one who pays the bill. As students get older, they may bear great influence on their parents’ ratings. In the event of differing ratings (e.g. higher ratings from students than from parents), you may be able to capitalize on this discrepancy by sharing student results with parents. As for timelines, this one should match the parents. Participation should be by all students from Grade 5 and up. This survey needs to be administered under supervision. Students will not complete the questionnaire on their own. Advisor sessions are often the best venue for this exercise. Avoid exam periods, and any other major stress points in the school year, November through May should be the target for conducting this survey.
While in the business community, this one is more often done on an annual basis, in strategic terms, it makes sense to match it up with the parent and student surveys on a three-year cycle. As the people tasked with the delivery of your program, you need to make sure that they have an objective format by which to tell you that they are: satisfied in employment; on the same page as the Board and Administration in what you’re hoping and dreaming for the School; and feeling well supported in the workplace as they endeavor to fulfill their own hopes and dreams. All employees, teaching and otherwise, should participate. Our dissection of results enables us to differentiate among employee types. If possible, this survey should be conducted in one or two sittings, as a group. As for timing, no time’s a good time for conducting an employee survey, so (using the November - May time frame as a guideline) choose the least worst, least stressful time in the school year.
This is also a performance report, but in the past tense, as opposed to a current year measure. The key question this answers (both generally, and across a long list of specific measures) is: “How well did we prepare you for post-secondary education and for life?” This survey forms an important answer to the question posed by many prospective parents: “How do I know that my child, entrusted to your care, will be better prepared for the next stage in life than if I enrolled him or her at School B or C or D?” Quantitative results to this question add meaningful value to the anecdotal. Counting on a response rate of about 25%, our target is to end up with 300+ completed questionnaires, allowing rigorous cross-tabulated analysis of results. This means that you need to distribute the survey to a minimum of 1200 graduates. This has ranged in past from 10 years to 25 years. This survey should not be limited in participation to those still in college or university. We find meaningful shifts in important rating measures, coincidental with attaining the degree. Age, experience, maturity, certainty, all of these may contribute to the shifts. Where those who are still students are having challenges, they are (on average) more likely to blame you for their problems. Once the degree is firmly in hand, this is less the case. The collection period could range from as six to eight weeks. As to the frequency for conducting this survey, you are restricted mostly by the number of graduates you produce. The same group surveyed in one effort cannot be expected to offer much new information about their student experiences at your school (other than as influenced by reflection and maturity). Think about this project as to be repeated when you have enough new graduates to warrant a full analysis, or at least, a comparative analysis to the previous iteration.
Young Alumni Survey
This is a big project polling all alumni in a non-anonymous survey. The purpose of this survey is to develop a better understanding of how the school relates to its alumni. Essentially, we ask respondents to tell us about their past relationship with the school (as students), about their current relationship (as reflected in a myriad of ratings and attitudinal measures), and about the relationship which they would like to have with the school. This future relationship would entail measures of interest in passive communication, online networking, events and programs, volunteering, and of course, philanthropy. On this last point, you’ll be able to match answers with names, identifying, for example, those alumni who: loved their student experience; feel great about the school now; have a history of recent donations to the school; expect to make a donation in the future; earn more than $250,000 per year; and are interested in supporting a new athletic complex. From this project, you should find yourselves in a position to both: develop a full strategic plan for advancement with alumni; and address each member of the participating group as an individual. Call it mass customization. Rather than broadcasting messages without differentiation, you’ll be able to approach and respond to individual alumni based on their particular needs and interests. Personal meetings will be guided by personal answers to the survey questions. Target 25% as a participation rate. High performance on this account so far is 44%. Success here depends largely on your past efforts in having and promoting a relationship with alumni. Timing for this project is best at one of three points in the year. Launch in September, January, or just after Spring Break. Collection period will be not less than three months. The collection mode for this survey may be a mix of online and regular paper mail. Count on two mailings by regular mail if you go that route, and numerous reminder messages by email. Each message or mailing should be culled for those who have participated in the intervening period. Once we’ve completed the project, you’ll want to merge key fields from our database with your own. This is a project that can be repeated when budget permits in an effort to bring more names into the database. I wouldn’t look at a second such project until five years has passed since the first survey.