Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Swarthmore College conducting a survey on Learning, Working, and Living?

Who will be conducting the survey?

How was Rankin & Associates selected for the project?

How will the questions be developed?

Why is this a population survey and not a sample survey?

How is a respondent’s confidentiality protected?

What will be done with data from the results?

What protections are in place for storage of sensitive data, including for future secondary use?

What will be included in the final report?

Why is Swarthmore College conducting a survey on Learning, Working, and Living?

The Swarthmore College Self-Study on Learning, Working, and Living aims to identify what we each expect and experience as members of this community. Students, faculty, and staff will all be invited to share their thoughts and experiences in a confidential survey to be conducted in spring 2015. This study will reveal collective impressions of the College, and explore how individuals experience the community differently, based on their various identities and groups to which they belong. By identifying what is working and what needs to be worked on, we will be able to better define what we collectively aspire to as members of the Swarthmore College community.

This initiative grows out of a national trend to assess “campus climate,” which Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates, a firm which specializes in studying this topic, defines as “the current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of employees and students of an institution.” The climate is often shaped through personal experiences, perceptions and institutional efforts.

Research findings indicate that positive personal experiences with campus climate and positive perceptions of the climate generally equate to successful outcomes. These outcomes include things such as positive educational experiences and healthy identity development for students, productivity and sense of value for faculty and staff, and overall well-being for all members of the campus community.

Who will be conducting the survey?

The survey will be developed and implemented by a committee of students, faculty, and staff, with guidance from Rankin & Associates. Representatives from Rankin & Associates will process the results and interpret the findings, ensuring the confidentiality of survey participants.

Dr. Susan Rankin is working directly with the committee on this project. Dr. Rankin is an emeritus faculty member of Education Policy Studies and College Student Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University and a senior research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education. She has extensive experience in institutional climate assessment and institutional climate transformation based on data-driven action and strategic planning. Dr. Rankin has conducted similar institutional studies at more than 100 colleges and universities across the country.

How was Rankin & Associates selected for the project?

In reviewing efforts by other colleges and universities to conduct comprehensive self-studies, several best practices were identified. One was the need for external expertise in survey administration. The administration of a survey relating to a very sensitive subject like campus climate is likely to yield higher response rates and provide more credible findings if led by an independent, outside researcher. Rankin & Associates are leaders in this field, having conducted similar research projects on more than 100 other colleges and universities.

How will the questions be developed?

The survey will be developed by a committee of students, faculty, and staff, with guidance from Rankin & Associates. Focus groups will be held with members of the campus community to help identify themes that are particularly relevant at Swarthmore. Rankin & Associates has administered similar surveys at more than 100 other colleges and universities. Their repository of field-tested questions will provide a framework for the committee, whose members will contextualize the survey and develop Swarthmore-specific questions.

Why is this a population survey and not a sample survey?

The survey will be administered to all faculty, staff and students at Swarthmore. This population survey will maximize participation, toward a survey goal of inclusiveness of all campus voices. We do not have population data on most identities that individuals might claim, so even a randomized stratified sampling would have the potential to miss many groups. Every response matters and is valuable in providing feedback about the experiences of learning, living, and working at Swarthmore College.

How is a respondent’s confidentiality protected?

Confidentiality is vital to the success of this study. No personal identifying information, such as Social Security numbers, campus identification numbers, email addresses, or medical information will be collected through the survey.

Data will not be reported on any group with fewer than five individuals, because those “small cell sizes” may be small enough to compromise confidentiality. Instead, the researchers will combine the groups or take other measures to eliminate any potential for demographic information to be identifiable. Any comments submitted in response to the survey will be separated at the time of submission so they are not attributed to any individual demographic characteristics. Identifiable information submitted in qualitative comments will be redacted and the College will only receive these redacted comments.

Confidentiality in participating will be maintained to the highest degree permitted by the technology used (e.g., IP addresses will be stripped when the survey is submitted). No guarantees can be made regarding the interception of data sent via the Internet by any third parties; however, to avoid interception of data, the survey is run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security. Security of the online survey meets or exceeds standards used in online banking.

What will be done with data from the results?

Survey results will be processed and reviewed in summer 2015 by Rankin & Associates. In fall 2015 the committee will host community-wide conversations which will provide opportunities to discuss what we’ve learned and to determine what our next steps should be to reinforce what is going well and to address areas where we might do better, for the benefit of all members of the community.

Three actions for measurable change will be developed by the committee, informed by the study results and feedback from the community in response to the findings. Accountability for enacting changes and making progress toward improving measures, as prioritized by the community, will be established based on the focus of each of the three recommended actions.

What protections are in place for storage of sensitive data, including for future secondary use?

Swarthmore has worked with Rankin & Associates to develop a comprehensive research data security plan that covers collection, handling, and security of all information that is part of the study. Data from online participants will be encrypted and submitted through a secure server, following standards which meet or exceed those used for online banking. Surveys completed with paper and pencil are returned to Rankin & Associates directly and kept in a locked file drawer in a locked office. Paper and pencil responses will be destroyed after they are merged with the online data.

The data is secured on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security and is stored on a SQL database that can only be accessed locally. The server itself may only be accessed using encrypted SSH connections originating from the local network.

All Rankin & Associates data analysts who will have access to the raw data have CITI (Human Subjects) training and approval and have worked on similar projects for other institutions. Rankin & Associates has conducted more than 100 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged database. The data from Swarthmore’s self study will be merged with all other existing data stored indefinitely on the consultant’s secure server. No institutional identifiers are included in the full merged data set held by the consultant.

Rankin & Associates will provide Swarthmore College with a data file at the completion of the project, which will be maintained by the College's Institutional Research Office.

What will be included in the final report?

Rankin & Associates will provide a final report that will include: an executive summary; a narrative report of the findings based on cross tabulations identified by the consultant; frequencies, percentages, means and standard deviations of quantitative data; and content analysis of the textual data. The report will provide a high-level summary of the findings and will identify themes found in the data. Generalizations for populations are limited to those groups or subgroups with response rates of at least 30%. This report will be shared with the campus community in fall 2015.