Many students, faculty and staff cite “community” as one of the strongest values at Cal State East Bay. The university seeks qualitative and quantitative to benchmark this concept, as well as the idea of belonging. This type of assessment is globally called a climate survey, although we have retitled the project so it is not confused with university-wide sustainability efforts.
The idea to conduct a campus climate survey originated from interested students, faculty and staff who believed data from such a survey might be useful in planning for the future and improving the climate, or sense of belonging, at Cal State East Bay.
Susan Rankin, Ph.D. of Rankin & Associates Consulting, which is serving as the outside consultant for Cal State East Bay climate survey, defines campus climate 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.
The Climate Survey Working Group (CSWG) is charged with conducting Cal State East Bay’s assessment of belonging. After a review of potential vendors, the committee selected Rankin & Associates Consulting to conduct the survey, and the firm reports directly to the committee. Although the CSWG will regularly update Cal State East Bay about its progress, the committee—in consultation with Rankin & Associates—is solely responsible for the development, implementation and interpretation of the survey and its results.
Susan Rankin (Rankin & Associates Consulting) is the consultant working directly with us on this project. She is faculty member emerita 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. Rankin has conducted multi-location institutional climate studies at more than 200 institutions across the country. She developed and utilizes the Transformational Tapestry model as a research design for campus climate studies. The model is a “comprehensive, five-phase strategic model of assessment, planning and intervention, designed to assist campus communities in conducting inclusive assessments of their institutional climate to better understand the challenges facing their respective communities” (Rankin & Reason, 2008).
Rankin’s research maintains that positive personal experiences with campus climate and positive perceptions of campus climate generally equate to successful outcomes. Example successful outcomes include positive educational experiences and healthy identity development for students, productivity and sense of value for faculty and staff, and overall well-being for all.
In reviewing efforts by other universities to conduct comprehensive climate 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 agency. Members of a college community may feel particularly inhibited to respond honestly to a survey administered by their own institution for fear of retaliation.