ERIC Number: EJ1123167
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017
Abstractor: As Provided
How Important Are High Response Rates for College Surveys?
Fosnacht, Kevin; Sarraf, Shimon; Howe, Elijah; Peck, Leah K.
Review of Higher Education, v40 n2 p245-265 Win 2017
Surveys play an important role in understanding the higher education landscape. About 60 percent of the published research in major higher education journals utilized survey data (Pike, 2007). Institutions also commonly use surveys to assess student outcomes and evaluate programs, instructors, and even cafeteria food. However, declining survey participation rates threaten this source of vital information and its perceived utility. Survey researchers across a number of social science disciplines in America and abroad have witnessed a gradual decrease in survey participation over time (Brick & Williams, 2013; National Research Council, 2013). Higher education researchers have not been immune from this trend; Dey (1997) long ago highlighted the steep decline in response rates in the American Council on Education and Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) senior follow-up surveys from 60 percent in the 1960s to 21 percent in 1991. Survey researchers have long assumed that the best way to obtain unbiased estimates is to achieve a high response rate. For this reason, the literature on survey methods is rife with best practices and suggestions to improve survey response rates (e.g., American Association for Public Opinion Research, n.d.; Dillman, 2000; Heberlein & Baumgartner, 1978). These methods can be costly or require significant time or effort by survey researchers and may be unfeasible for postsecondary institutions due to the increasing fiscal pressures placed upon them. However, many survey researchers have begun to question the widely held assumption that low response rates provide biased results (Curtin, Presser, & Singer, 2000; Groves, 2006; Keeter, Miler, Kohut, Groves, & Presser, 2000; Massey & Tourangeau, 2013; Peytchev, 2013). This study investigates this assumption with college student assessment data. It utilizes data from hundreds of samples of first-year and senior students with relatively high response rates using a common assessment instrument with a standardized administration protocol. It investigates how population estimates would have changed if researchers put forth less effort when collecting data and achieved lower response rates and respondent counts. Due to the prevalence of survey data in higher education research and assessment efforts, it is imperative to better understand the relationship between response rates and data quality.
Descriptors: Higher Education, Surveys, Response Rates (Questionnaires), Simulation, Comparative Analysis, College Students, Test Reliability, College Freshmen, College Seniors, National Surveys, Student Surveys, Correlation, Research Methodology
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: National Survey of Student Engagement
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A