Student Social Climate Survey, Fall 2010
In fall 2010 we conducted an online survey of the CU-Boulder campus social climate. CU-Boulder's Office of Data Analytics has conducted this survey about every four years since 1994. All enrolled, degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate students (including those in Law) who had an email address and who had not requested that their personal directory information be kept private -- almost 30,000 students -- were invited to participate in the survey. We asked students to tell us about:
We received completed questionnaires from 6,125 undergraduates and 1,652 graduate students, a total of 7,777 students, for a response rate of 26%. Response rates were somewhat higher for women (30%) than for men (23%), for graduate students (32%) than for undergraduates (25%), and for engineering students (32%) than for students in other schools and colleges (24-29%).
Overwhelming majorities of respondents had an approving view of the campus's social climate -- the extent to which CU-Boulder makes students feel welcome, valued and supported. Around four in five respondents reported feeling intellectually stimulated often or very often. A similar proportion said they felt welcome and accepted, and nearly nine in ten said they felt comfortable in their classes.
The favorable view of CU-Boulder's social climate was generally shared by all subgroups studied -- men and women, undergraduate and graduate students, students in all of the university's schools and colleges, politically liberal and conservative students, students in fraternities and sororities, students who are the first in their family to attend college, gay and straight students, students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, students of different races and ethnicities, students with physical or psychological disabilities, nontraditional-age students, students who entered as freshmen and transfers, international students, students affiliated with the military, and students with different religious affiliations, including Catholics, other Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and nonbelievers. Membership in these self-identified subgroups was determined using survey responses provided by the students.
Overall, students described the campus as friendly and welcoming, with 80 percent of both undergraduate and graduate students reporting feeling welcome and accepted either often or very often. Eighty-eight percent said they feel comfortable in their classes, and 80 percent reported feeling intellectually stimulated. Large majorities described CU-Boulder as "accepting of diverse perspectives" in the classroom, 81 percent, and outside the classroom, 63 percent.
On a broad measure of feeling welcome and comfortable on campus and in the Boulder community (the Positive Social Climate scale; see below), students who self-identified in diverse subgroups generally reported a positive experience -- averaging about 4 on the 5-point scale. Although the positive assessment of the campus's social climate was shared across all subgroups, two subgroups of at least 100 respondents did rate it slightly lower -- around 3.5 -- African-American students and students who characterized themselves as having a psychological or psychiatric disability such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Their ratings were, however, still above the scale midpoint of 3.0. There was also a tendency for slightly less positive evaluations of the campus social climate by GLBT students, nontraditional-age students, students of lower socioeconomic status, very liberal students, very conservative students, students not affiliated with a fraternity or sorority, transfer students, and students affiliated with the Buddhist and Muslim faiths. Their ratings were, nevertheless, well above the neutral point on the scale.
Comprising 149 scaled questions, plus another six open-ended questions, the survey collected a massive amount of information -- over a million responses to the ratings, and nearly 23,000 written comments, amounting to half a million words. The thousands of student comments include praise for particular classes that addressed diversity issues, suggestions to increase enrollment of international students and to make tuition more affordable for low-income students, reports of uncomfortable situations involving derogatory comments about women or gays or people of color, descriptions of personal experiences with religious or political prejudice, and accounts of situations that led to better understanding between people of different backgrounds. One student wrote, "Thanks for continuing to educate people on these issues, I feel like a much bigger and better person since I came to CU."
Differences in survey results across 2001, 2006, and 2010 indicate an overall trend of small but consistent and wide-ranging improvements in the social climate on the CU-Boulder campus. For example, students' level of comfort taking part in campus social life was higher in 2010, as were the average levels of feeling welcome, accepted, supported and intellectually stimulated at CU-Boulder. In all three surveys, African-American undergraduate students perceived the climate at CU-Boulder somewhat less favorably than did undergraduates of other races/ethnicities. Compared with 2001 and 2006, however, African-American undergraduates in 2010 reported feeling more welcome on the Boulder campus and more comfortable participating in campus social life and life on the Hill. Other students also reported feeling more welcome and comfortable in 2010.
A campus advisory board representing a wide range of campus units helped guide the survey and data analysis, including the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, equity and community engagement, the associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education, faculty, and representatives from student government, Disability Services, the GLBT Resource Center, Religious Campus Organizations, Wardenburg Health Center, the Office of Orientation, the Center for Multicultural Affairs, and the Women's Resource Center.
The survey's findings are used primarily to evaluate, revise, and develop programs and policies that promote student success by helping all students feel like valued members of the university community. ODA and members of the survey's advisory board have been working together to distribute the results and encourage their use throughout the university community.
Using 17 measurement scales, the campus social climate data were analyzed separately for selected groups to examine how various students groups' experiences on the Boulder campus differ. Graphs and text summaries of these analyses are available:
Subgroup distributions on the Positive Social Climate (PSC) scale. The PSC is a 17-item omnibus summary measure of how welcome and comfortable students feel on campus and in the Boulder community. The scale serves as an overall indicator on which to compare various subgroups of survey respondents. Results of these comparisons are described above. Follow the link for a separate document with further detail, including graphs and tables of scale-score distributions for each subgroup and notes on scale construction.
The Student Social Climate Survey participants comprise a diverse group of people. A demographic table shows numbers and percentages of survey respondents in groups based on gender identification, race/ethnicity, Colorado residency, religious affiliation, political orientation, disability status, and sexual orientation. These statistics are provided for all students combined and by class level (i.e., undergraduate or graduate). The group membership information is largely based on students' responses to demographic items from the survey questionnaire. Some information is from student records data and noted as such in the narrative.
Additional data collected by the survey reflect other dimensions of diversity, which have been summarized in a table. Highlights from these data are provided below:
A new set of items on this year's survey is related to many of the above-mentioned dimensions of diversity. For these items, respondents were asked to rate how strongly they identified with various aspects of their social identity, such as gender, age, socioeconomic status, political affiliation or beliefs, etc. Data presented in a summary table show percentages of respondents who "strongly" or "very strongly" identified with these various aspects. A few highlights are presented below.
In examining associations of various student identity characteristics (such as race/ethnicity or political beliefs) with other variables assessed in the survey, it is important to be aware that there are some modest but significant correlations among some of the identity indicators. In other words, there are membership overlaps in some of the student identity groups. For example:
Users of the descriptive statistics in the large Excel file (described below) should, therefore, filter on multiple identifiers to more fully explore the nature of the findings.
For reference, we include, in brackets, the questionnaire page locations (e.g., p6) of the data presented below . For those who want more detailed information about the statistics reported here, we also include (in the brackets) a notation that directs the user to the location of the statistical data in the large Excel file. That notation refers to the "item stem" column in the Excel file and specifies the data filter to use to isolate that item for examination (e.g., "During the current semester, how often have you felt").
Overall, students rate the campus as friendly and welcoming. A majority of both undergraduate and graduate students report that CU-Boulder is friendly, both inside and outside of the classroom environment [p7; Inside/Outside the classroom, CU-Boulder is]. The great majority (about 80%) of both undergraduates and graduates report feeling "welcome" and "accepted" either "often" or "very often." About 60% report feeling "valued" and "supported" either "often" or "very often." [p1; During the current semester, how often have you felt]
The campus community values diversity. More than three quarters of both undergraduates and graduates indicated that course instructors, university staff and administrators, and members of student government value diversity. Smaller proportions of students (about 60%) reported that CU-Boulder students and the Boulder community value diversity. [p7; How much do these groups at CU-Boulder value diversity?]
Although nearly 60% of students think that diversity should be a high priority for the university, only about 40% think that diversity is at present a high priority at CU-Boulder. [p7; in the "Item" column of the Excel file, filter on "In your opinion, how high of a priority ..."]
The great majority of students (90-97%) reported that they very seldom witness faculty direct derogatory comments or behaviors toward people in various demographic and social identity groups based on race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, socioeconomic status, military status/involvement, fraternity/sorority membership, or religious affiliation/belief. A somewhat lower proportion of students (84%) reported that they very seldom witness faculty direct such comments/behavior toward people with conservative political beliefs; 94% reported that they very seldom witness faculty direct such comments/behavior toward people with liberal political beliefs. [p4; During the current semester, how often have you witnessed a COURSE INSTRUCTOR ...]
The majority of students (51-89%) reported that they very seldom witness students direct derogatory comments or behaviors toward people in the various demographic and social identity groups. Higher proportions of graduate students (64-96%) than undergraduate students (44-87%) indicated that they very seldom witness students direct such comments/behavior. More than 10% of those who took the survey reported that they often witness students direct such comments/behavior toward racial or ethnic minorities (11%); women (14%); gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender people (13%); fraternity or sorority members (27%); people with a particular religious/spiritual affiliation/belief (11%); or people with conservative political beliefs (21%). In general, substantially greater proportions of undergraduate students, compared with graduate students, reported witnessing students' derogatory comments/behavior toward these groups. [p4; During the current semester, how often have you witnessed a STUDENT ...]
Diversity is fostered and respected in the classroom. Substantial percentages of both undergraduate and graduate students reported that they "agree" or "strongly agree" that CU-Boulder course instructors "help to foster a classroom environment that is open and respectful of diverse beliefs and opinions that students express in class" (69%) and that classroom instructors "provide opportunities for students of different backgrounds to interact with one another in class (e.g., in classroom discussions, on projects or on class assignments)" (61%). Just under half (46%) of students agreed or strongly agreed that instructors "help students to better understand the different perspectives of diverse cultures and social groups." [p6; My course instructors at CU-Boulder]These data are summarized in this graph:
As can be seen in the graph below, the majority of students have a positive impression of the classroom environment at CU-Boulder. Classes are described as respectful, civil, friendly, and accepting of diverse groups of people. Very small percentages of students (1-6%) characterize the classroom environment in negative terms--for example as disrespectful (3%), homophobic (4%), racist (4%), sexist (6%), or not accepting of diverse religious beliefs (5%). [p7; INSIDE the classroom, CU-Boulder is]
Although students also perceive the campus environment outside the classroom as generally positive, lower percentages of students describe that environment as respectful, civil, friendly, and accepting of diverse groups of people. Noticeable proportions of students describe the campus environment outside the classroom in negative terms--for example, as disrespectful (13%), homophobic (15%), racist (14%), sexist (13%), or not accepting of diverse religious beliefs (12%). [p7; OUTSIDE the classroom, CU-Boulder is] These data are summarized in the graph below.
Students perceive some limitations with respect to diversity in the undergraduate core curriculum. Just over half (53%) of undergraduates reported that they "agree" or "strongly agree" that courses offered to fulfill the Arts & Sciences core curriculum requirements in Human Diversity Arts & Sciences "adequately address the topic of human diversity (i.e., issues related to different cultural and social groups)." A smaller proportion (43%) of undergraduates, however, agreed or strongly agreed that "There are sufficient numbers and variety of courses offered in this area to choose from." [p6; Have you already fulfilled ...]
Students from diverse groups are respected at CU-Boulder. About 60% of students agree or strongly agree that students at CU-Boulder are respected regardless of their race or ethnicity (60%), gender identity (62%), sexual orientation (58%), age (64%), national origin (65%), physical disabilities (63%), psychological or learning disabilities (62%), veteran status or military involvement (71%), or religious/spiritual affiliation or beliefs (56%). Somewhat lower percentages of students agree or strongly agree that students at CU-Boulder are respected regardless of their socioeconomic status (51%), fraternity or sorority affiliation (44%), or political affiliation or beliefs (48%). An additional 25% or so of students "agree somewhat" that students in each of these 12 categories are respected at CU-Boulder. [p3; Indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each of the following statements] These data are visually summarized in this graph:
Getting Additional Statistics
Descriptive statistics for all quantitative (multiple-choice) items in the 2010 Student Social Climate Survey are available in a large Excel file, for the entire campus and by subgroup (e.g., undergraduate/graduate, school/college, citizenship, disability status, gender, gender identity, political orientation, race/ethnicity, religious preference, sexual orientation, first-generation students, native-English speakers, non-traditional-age students, sorority and fraternity members, veterans). The image below shows an example of information that can be obtained from this file. Not shown in the image, because of space limitations, are the percentages of respondents who selected "very often," "often," etc.; the standard deviation of the responses; the percentage of students who did not respond or responded "not applicable"; and other information.
Example of information from Excel file of descriptive statistics
In this example, the data filters (inside the green circles) on "subgroup block" and "item" have been used to limit the display of statistics. Counts of respondents and means, for the item that asks students how often they have felt accepted during the current semester, are shown according to students' responses to the political orientation item.
When using the Excel of statistics, it can be helpful to refer to the questionnaire codebook. The codebook and the Excel both contain variable names, which can be used to locate particular items quickly. For example, the variable name for the item in the example above ("how often have you felt accepted") is "f_accept." (This variable name is not shown in the example above because of space limitations, but it is shown in a far right-hand column of the Excel itself.) If a person wishes to see this item as it was presented to students on the questionnaire, then the item can be located quickly via an electronic search of the questionnaire codebook for "f_accept."
The 2010 Student Social Climate Survey included a half dozen long open-ended questions that solicited students' comments about campus diversity issues. A great many students wrote thoughtful and extensive answers to these questions. An overwhelming total of 5,919 students (76% of survey respondents) answered at least one of these long open-ended questions. The questions, the numbers of students who submitted comments in response to each, and selected examples of the students' comments are listed below:
Students' verbatim comments from both long and short open-ended items in the survey are available in two very large Excel files. These files are password-protected and are intended to be used in improving or evaluating University units or programs, or in understanding and describing the University situation. Each file contains the same verbatim comments, but the files are organized differently. Comments in the first Excel are organized by student level (graduate/undergraduate), race/ethnicity, and gender; those in the second Excel are organized by college/school, Arts & Sciences division, student level, and gender. To obtain access to these comments, please complete a nondisclosure agreement.
In addition, the Excels contain students' responses to two sets of short open-ended questions that asked about: 1) places on- and off-campus where students felt comfortable, and 2) suggested courses and/or topic areas for the Human Diversity A&S core curriculum. Over 7,000 students answered at least one of the items in the first set, and almost 300 students gave responses on at least one item in the second set. (For this latter set, students were asked to respond only if they "disagreed" or "strongly disagreed" with one or both statements that asked about the adequacy and number/variety of these courses.)
Last revision 05/02/16
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