Surveying student media staffs

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Data and analysis can aid recruitment, retention—and growth

By Jessica Clary
Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta

Introduction — To get to my office, you have to leave the main classroom building, drive (or walk) to the freshman residence hall (which is a mystery to many at a college with mostly commuters), go through a lobby without signs, past an elevator, then take a sharp turn down an unmarked hallway, past the bathrooms, and then knock on a locked door. If someone is there, they’ll come open it, unless you’re standing too close. The door opens out. I can’t tell you how many people have leaned in and hit the door. If you’re trying to get involved with Student Media at my college, there’s a chance your first experience will be getting lost, then getting hit in the face with a door.

But, nearly 10 percent of students at SCAD Atlanta are involved with student media in some way. Since 2011, I have been trying to figure out how they got here.

I learned early on that my pleas for huge, institutional changes (better office space, a more visible presence for our online-only student media, better racks for our print media, etc.) wouldn’t be easy, but finding out how we recruited and held on to the committed students I saw every day couldn’t be that hard.

Over the past six years, I have gathered and tracked data to be able to explain how, at SCAD Atlanta, our student media recruits and retains students. I can see what has worked, what hasn’t, and what has changed. I’ve been able to use the data to better prioritize and use the resources we do have, to continue to grow these programs within the college.

Research — SCAD Atlanta collects a lot of data about students involved with the program, but most of it is quantitative: dates, meeting sign-in sheets, application forms, etc. Once a year, we do a brief, easy qualitative survey to get feedback from involved students about their experience with the program. The survey is sent through Qualtrics to official university email addresses in April, collected and tabulated in May, and then analyzed over the summer by student leaders to implement changes in the fall.

The Survey and Opinion Matrix — The survey asks some factual, multiple-choice questions about how students found out about student media, when they got involved, etc.:

  1. How do you serve, or have you served, in SCAD Atlanta Student Media? (SCAD Atlanta Radio DJ, SCAD Atlanta Radio manager, SCAD Atlanta Radio committee member, Connector contributor, SCAN Magazine contributor, Connector/SCAN Magazine editorial staff) (select all that apply)
  1. How did you find out about SCAD Atlanta Student Media? (college email, college webspace, friends/classmates, faculty, staff, bulletin screen, posters/flyers, orientation events, student media websites, events, other) (select all that apply)
  1. When did you apply? (quarters/years for past four years)
  1. How soon did you get involved after submitting that application? (same quarter, later, way later, never)
  1. Why did you get involved so quickly, or why did you take a while before getting involved? (open-answer)

The other section of the survey is an opinion matrix that asks students to agree, strongly agree, disagree or strongly agree with seven different statements. An n/a is also available for students where that statement doesn’t apply to them. (For example, a student who just worked on a photo shoot on location for a magazine, but never came to our offices, would select n/a to comment on our office facilities.)

The statements are:

  • I feel a sense of belonging at student media.
  • I feel like other students involved in student media care about my opinions and contributions.
  • The adviser is helpful, knowledgeable and easy to talk to.
  • Adequate facilities are available to do the work I need to do for student media.
  • Students feel welcome at student media events.
  • I feel like student media is a vital part of student life at SCAD Atlanta.
  • I feel like student media receives recognition at SCAD Atlanta for its quality.

From year-to-year, for an at-a-glance summary of how we’re doing, we look at the combined agree/strongly agree vs. the combined disagree/strongly disagree for each area compared to previous years. That is the easy, upfront way we select areas to strategize for improvements.

Year-to-Year analysis and emphasis areas — In 2015, we had two years’ data to compare (2014 and 2015), and chose areas in the opinion matrix to focus on for planning the next year.

Examples: “Adviser is helpful, knowledgeable and easy to talk to” fell from 88% to 86% in total agrees/strongly agrees from spring 2014 to spring 2015. In fall 2015, the adviser held weekly walk-in training sessions, gave one-on-one feedback on every story and attended every student-run event that year. In 2015, the agrees/strongly agrees were back up to 95%.

“Students feel welcome and engaged at student media events” fell from 78% to 70% in total agrees/strongly agrees from spring 2014 to spring 2015. We experimented with different types of smaller events, like a magazine reading in one of the art galleries. We did not reach as many people, but we did improve the feelings of engagement with the students we did reach. Agrees/strongly agrees for 2015 increased to 86% for 2015.

We re-analyzed these programs and efforts in 2016. Examples:

“I feel like student media receives recognition at SCAD Atlanta for its quality” were just 46% in spring 2015.  Our strategies had been small. We recognized milestones with posters around the college and small, impromptu surprises (like cake or pizza at a meeting, etc.). Instead of focusing on larger events, we focused on realistic opportunities for recognition and really went for them. In spring 2016, we had gotten that number up to 75%.

For 2015-2016, we purchased new large, shiny metal racks for SCAN Magazine, upping the visibility of our print product in campus buildings, and we saw a payoff. Racks became the 2nd most popular way students found out about student media. We also saw that last year’s most popular method was through friends and classmates, so we added some class visits to reinforce this, and were able to raise that number from 55% to 60%.

Overall analysis — Our original goal when we started was to find out how students got involved, and then what we did that kept them here. Over the years, we have been satisfied with how we’ve attained this goal, and we plan to continue this survey every year. 

We also know we have to look at the survey results in the context of the other data collected, specifically in the context of growth. The 2015-2016 survey was sent to 191 students participating in student media programs that academic year. Right now, the mailing list for the 2016-2017 survey is up to 212 students. Growth like that could, for example, negatively affect the “adequate facilities” opinions (more people sharing the same space), but positively affect “sense of belonging.” Keeping in mind things like the Fall 2014 facilities emergency that displaced the radio station for ten weeks makes the 2014-2015 survey data make more sense.

The other supplemental info comes anecdotally through conversations with students, discussions in meetings and more. It’s qualitative, and harder to count, but adds depth and perspective to our raw data.

Conclusion — This survey has made it very easy to see areas where our own students involved see us slipping behind, and an easy way to identify areas for improvement. Being a small, nimble department means we can make adjustments year to year based on the feedback and quickly implement improvement strategies. So far, these have paid off and we’ve been able to improve different areas.

With more resources and time, areas I’d consider for expansion would include focus-group style discussions of the opinion matrix statements with involved students to provide more context and anecdotal evidence for each point in a conversation-style atmosphere with other students, instead of an on-your-own survey.

About SCAD Atlanta Student Media — SCAD Atlanta Student Media supports three award-winning student-run media groups:

The Connector, online only at, is an online student news source, updated daily during academic terms with news, features, fashion, arts and entertainment, opinions and more. The Connector began as a weekly tabloid newspaper in 2006, and transitioned to online-only in 2008. The Connector has earned national recognition from College Media Association, Society for Professional Journalists, Associated Collegiate Press, Columbia Scholastic Press Association and more for exceptional online work.

SCAN Magazine is a quarterly (3x per year) 36-page feature magazine highlighting the artistic talent and majors at SCAD Atlanta. SCAN is completely produced by students and issues come out in September, January and March. SCAN Magazine has earned national recognition from College Media Association, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, Associated Collegiate Press and more for their outstanding work.

SCAD Atlanta Radio began broadcasting in November 2007 as an online streaming radio station. The station has student DJs all from the SCAD Atlanta location and operates 24/7/365. SCAD Atlanta Radio has earned national recognition from College Broadcasters Inc., College Media Association and the Society for Collegiate Journalists.

SCAD Atlanta also has a chapter of the Society for Collegiate Journalists, named Outstanding New Chapter in 2014.

Jessica Clary and her “mug” shot

Jessica Clary, MFA, is assistant director of student media for the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, and has served as adviser to The Connector, SCAN Magazine and SCAD Atlanta Radio since 2010. She also served as assistant director of student media at the SCAD Savannah location from 2005-2008. She really likes Japanese monster movies