Most institutions of higher education are already aware of the importance of data. From the early stages of deciding which students to admit into our programs, to assessing their performance along the way, data is an integral piece of the college experience. As students continue to engage with technology, opportunities for data collection and utilization will increase, posing both opportunities and challenges for those working in collegiate well-being.
The Campus Prevention Network (CPN) Framework for Comprehensive Prevention defines critical processes as “the strategic, collaborative, and research-informed translation of resources into effective policies and programs.” In other words, critical processes are the way in which we use available data to support the development, execution, evaluation, and sustainability of our efforts. With issues of “survey fatigue” and “respondent fatigue” weighing on the minds of those administering data collection tools, practitioners must continue to look for creative and brief ways to gauge the experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives of students.
There are often several components involved in obtaining data, but two particular elements stand out: the process of collecting data, and how data is used once it is obtained. The following suggestions can serve as a guide for making the most of your data, from collection to dissemination of findings.
1. Be transparent. From start to finish, it is important to be transparent about your reasons for collecting data, and, once that data is collected, what you uncover. Introduce students to the reasons for obtaining data in a way that will resonate with them. For example, “We are hoping to better understand the experiences of our community members. Information collected will be used to identify where additional resources related to well-being should be allocated.” Once data is collected, consider sharing it in the form of a brief, an email, a town hall, or even in the form of a social media campaign. Transparency about the issues and insights will build trust among your community and better engage your students as part of the solution.
2. Not using data sends a message as well. If you are implementing a survey related to a well-being issue like sexual experiences, drinking behaviors, or mental health status, you are asking students to share personal and sensitive information. While what you do with that information is an important part of building trust, credibility, and rapport, choosing NOT to use it also sends a message. By asking students personal questions and failing to do anything in response to the information collected, you may risk sending the message that either A) you don’t care, or B) that students wasted their time in answering your questions to begin with. Either way, the outcomes aren’t ideal.
3. “Thank you” goes a long way. If you aren’t doing so already, consider sending a follow-up thank you to students who have participated in the data collection process. Even just the simple act of acknowledging that they took time to help your cause can be a powerful one. Here’s some sample wording: “Thank you for taking the time to complete our climate survey. We know that you are busy and have many things to do, and we appreciate you dedicating some of your day to helping to better our community. It’s small efforts like yours that help to create positive change.”
4. Student engagement data is your best friend… if you use it correctly. One of the most well-utilized aspects of EVERFI’s alcohol and sexual assault prevention courses is the “student engagement” feature. Students are asked a variety of questions about their desire to be involved in efforts to support the well-being of their communities, including if they’d like to be made aware of alcohol-free events, if they’d like to become more involved in prevention efforts, if they’d like to be connected with like-minded students (e.g., fellow abstainers), and what kinds of activities they are interested in participating in. These data are often a goldmine for prevention professionals, as they provide a pool of motivated students willing to support ongoing prevention initiatives. There are several creative ways that schools have utilized these data:
a. Involve Senior Leaders. For those students who indicate that they are abstainers and wish to be connected with other students on campus who don’t drink, consider sending a letter or email from your president or chancellor commending their decision to engage in healthy behavior while at school. Some institutions even host a welcome dinner to connect those students with one another and to help them feel welcomed and appreciated on campus. By involving senior leadership, you are sending a positive message to students that their chosen behavior is acknowledged and appreciated by the institution.
b. Create a mechanism for communication. Even if you don’t have the resources or support to have a formal gathering with campus leaders, you do have access to the names and email addresses of students who opted in to be more involved. Particularly for those students who indicate that they wish to be connected with others, it is important to follow up on their interest. This could be an informal “welcome” email that shares contact information, the creation of a social media group on Facebook, or simply host a “meet and greet hour” during your office hours. Typically, schools have reported that students tend to take it from there. The first introduction is the most critical.
c. Share with key stakeholders. Student engagement data, particularly the question that asks students what kind of alcohol-free activities they would be interested in, can be an incredibly valuable resource for campus partners. Ensure that you are sharing such data with your Greek Life office, Residential Life, and Student Engagement and Recreation.
5. Share data broadly. In the spirit of collaboration, it is important to share the data that you obtain broadly. Often, students come to college with the misperception that “everybody” is drinking or having sex. Data collected through online courses, climate surveys, and other assessments are often ideal tools for conducting social norms campaigns, or for simply challenging the assumptions that students may bring with them to college. By sharing the often positive realities of behaviors, attitudes, and experiences of those on campus, you can help to set reasonable expectations to support student well-being.
6. Be creative with data sources. In the CPN Diagnostic Inventories, schools are asked to indicate the data sources that they utilize in their prevention efforts. These data sources include:
- Campus-wide climate surveys
- Survey data from in-person programs
- Survey data from online programs
- On-campus police data
- Off-campus police data
- Clery reports
- Judicial/disciplinary reports
- Residence Life reports
- Student Health Services reports
- Hospital admissions data
- Student Counseling Center reports/demographic data
- Focus group data
- Registrar data
- National or state survey data
Consider the ways in which your institution is, or is not, utilizing the data sources above, and how doing so may help to support your ongoing efforts. In some cases, it may mean forging relationships with on- or off-campus partners, while in other cases it may simply mean instituting a data sharing process. Additionally, consider the role that admissions and institutional research offices can have in your data collection efforts. By sharing information with admissions, particularly as it relates to current student behaviors, they can appropriately speak to the issues and opportunities that students may be presented with on campus.
To benchmark your Critical Processes efforts against best practice, and for more specific recommendations, take the CPN pledge for access to our Diagnostic Inventories!