Chapter 7:




Gary Schwarzmueller, Executive Director, Association of College and University Housing Officers-International

Robert Mosier, Director of Residential Living, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point




Factors Influencing The Need for Benchmarking in Higher Education, Student Affairs, and Student Housing

Because of the rapid changes caused by technology, the fluctuating economy, a reduction in support from states and the federal government, changing demographics, and the reaction of potential students to higher education as customers with new needs and changing demands, many higher education institutions are experiencing the uncertainties that businesses are presently dealing with.


With this uncertainty and period of rapid change, there has been a strong emphasis in higher education, Student Affairs, and Student Housing on efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, and adding value to the education that students receive at colleges and universities.  This focus has occurred as a result of involvement and oversight by state legislatures, regional accrediting agencies, boards of trustees, and other groups. Ewell (1993) points out that in the 1990s, state legislatures and other governing groups have increasingly called upon higher education institutions to demonstrate how they are having a positive impact on students that can be measured. Regional accrediting agencies have asked colleges and universities to:

1)     Develop clear goals stated in terms of outcomes;

2)     Develop measures to demonstrate goal achievement; and

3)     Demonstrate that the results of the measures have been used to guide improvements.


Implied in this assessment process is the need to demonstrate effectiveness through best practices and that value has been added to the students’ education, as shown through outcomes measurement.


Another significant influence on the educational and administrative policies and procedures of colleges and universities has been the adaptation of corporate and business practices.  Management by Objectives (MBO), Total Quality Management (TQM), Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI), Strategic Planning, Environmental Scanning, Quality Circles, and benchmarking have had varying degrees of success in higher education. Examples of concepts that have received fairly widespread acceptance and common usage include program reviews, market profiling and segmentation, and enrollment management.  Ewell (1999) suggests that there are three reasons why higher education institutions might want to explore the use of some of these business practices. First, institutional boards are increasingly made up of corporate executives, who are comfortable with these approaches. Their oversight and influence on higher education is increasing. Second, these techniques can be helpful in addressing concerns of specific areas of the institution. Practices in areas such as Financial Aids, Admissions, Recycling, Housing, or the Physical Plant may improve with application of one of these approaches.  Third, the examination of practices can lead to thinking carefully about what an institution values and looking at them from new perspectives.


The Benchmarking Process

With the advent of multiple business approaches for adoption in higher education, the question becomes how to select a process that can be most beneficial. Benchmarking is gaining increasing support in higher education generally, and Student Affairs and Student Housing specifically, as a result of it’s positive impact on practices to improve the students’ educational experiences. With respect to defining benchmarking, it is “a continuous, systematic process for evaluating the products, services, and work processes of organizations that are recognized as representing best practices for the purpose of educational improvement” (Spendolini, 1992, p.9).  Epper (1999) views benchmarking as involving three key components: 1) examining and understanding one’s own internal work procedures; 2) searching for best practices in other organizations that match with one’s own program; and 3) adapting those practices to improve performance. In higher education, it is a process of learning from others and improving the students’ educational experience.


The benchmarking practitioner needs to focus on development of two benchmarking areas:  performance benchmarking (looking at comparable outcome data with other schools) and process benchmarking (examining one’s own internal processes that impact on outcomes). According to Epper (1999), one of the most useful tools for dealing with the current competition and uncertainty in higher education is that of process benchmarking. Focusing inwardly on one’s own processes can lead to major changes.


With respect to approaches to benchmarking, Alstete (1995) describes four types of benchmarking: 1) internal benchmarking; 2) competitive benchmarking; 3) functional benchmarking; and 4) generic benchmarking. Internal benchmarking involves making comparisons within an organization, while competitive benchmarking examines performance against peer or competitor organizations. Within competitive benchmarking, it is common for a third party or outside organization to conduct the research. Examples of this would be studies conducted by associations such as the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), or private consulting firms, such as Educational Benchmarking, Incorporated (EBI). Functional, or industry benchmarking, involves looking at high performing processes from an industry-wide basis. Lastly, generic, or best-in-class benchmarking, looks at organizations outside of one’s field or industry, making comparisons at times between very different organizations.  An example would be within the area of marketing, a student housing organization comparing themselves to the practices of Disney world.

In addition, Epper sees the following benefits from applying the principles of benchmarking to the higher education setting, and hence to Student Affairs and Housing:

§         Benchmarking provides a model for action

§         Benchmarking distinguishes between real innovation and simple reputation

§         Benchmarking encourages “out-of-the-box” thinking

§         Benchmarking encourages a great deal of learning to take place

§         Benchmarking encourages greater self-study, while comparing one’s practices to others

§         Benchmarking encourages networking and opportunities for collaboration


Steps In the Benchmarking Process

When beginning to engage in benchmarking,  Alstete (1995) has identified five steps to follow:

1)     Decide what to benchmark;

2)     Decide whom to benchmark;

3)     Collect the data;

4)     Analyze the benchmark data; and

5)     Implement changes.

With respect to deciding what to benchmark, Alstete recommends examining critical success factors, such as cost reduction, problem reduction, customer satisfaction, continuous improvement, and marketplace superiority.  If a specific area is not apparent, and the institution is not working with a professional association’s benchmarking process (NACUBO, ACUHO-I, etc.), the recommendation is to begin at a high strategic level, involving the mission statement and working down to a more specific problem area.


In deciding whom to benchmark, and again when not working with a professional association’s benchmarking process, a place to start would be to research potential benchmarking partners using personal contacts, journals, professional associations, benchmarking consultants, the internet, or other sources of information. The data collection is simplified if participating in an existing benchmarking process. If not, one can look to publications of professional associations, consultants, seminars, networks, and other means. In analysis of the data, the goal is to examine current performance gaps between one’s program and organizations that are being compared against, and to discover the practices and procedures that need to be changed to be more successful. Finally, when implementing changes, care needs to be taken to include the persons directly involved in the changes to participate in the process. Previously agreed upon standards and goals need to be reviewed, as well as the cost/benefits of the changes in performance.   Monitoring needs to take place to make sure that positive results are occurring as a result of the changes.



As with other areas within higher education, benchmarking practices in Student Affairs developed primarily during the 1990s. The predominate efforts have occurred primarily through the coordination of professional associations such as the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), the National Association of College and University Food Services  (NACUFS), and the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I). While some institutions such as Oregon State University and Babson have conducted individual benchmarking surveys, the coordinative efforts of professional associations has led to more comprehensive comparative surveys between institutions.


The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) Benchmarking Project


NACUBO began its most recent benchmarking efforts in 1991, developing a pilot study involving over 1,600 individuals on 40 campuses. Over 600 benchmarks were designed, in 40 areas.  Based on feedback, the number of benchmarks has been cut back.   There were 26 core functional areas involved, including such areas as Admissions, Bookstores, Financial Aids, Food Services, Registration and Records, Student Health Services, and Student Housing.  NACUBO received assistance from the Higher Education Consulting Group of Coopers and Lybrand, and three other consulting firms.  As an example of the type of data that would be received from the benchmarking survey in the area of Admissions, an institution could gain benchmarks about the median offers as a percentage of applicants, the average number of secondary school graduates as a percentage of acceptances, and the average number of calendar days required to process an application. According to Massey and Myerson (1994), the NACUBO Benchmarking Project seeks to use the data to cut costs and improve performances, with greater quality of service.


A comprehensive study involving all 20 campuses of the California State University was carried out in 1993 using the NACUBO benchmarking process. Among the Student Affairs areas covered were Admissions, Financial Aids, and Registration and Records. Comparisons were made with institutions both within and outside of the California State University system. Generally, participation in the study was viewed as valuable, with positive changes occurring in practices and procedures. (Alsete, 1995)


Presently, NACUBO has developed and maintains an Effective Practices Database. The database contains information about effective practices and cost saving measures from various colleges and universities across the country. In addition, NACUBO develops forums to address issues of continuous quality improvement on campuses.



The National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Benchmarking Project


NACUFS has developed and maintains the Operating Performance Benchmarking Survey for food services and dining operations across the country.  Designed to complement this survey is the Customer Satisfaction Benchmarking Survey. This instrument allows food service programs to survey students who use residential dining halls and retail facilities. The results of the survey can be used to compare customer satisfaction with national benchmarks. The instrument measures satisfaction with food, service, and the dining environment.


 Another benchmarking survey provided by NACUFS is the Commodity Basket Service. This instrument provides a quarterly measurement of prices paid for 36 of the most commonly purchased foods for colleges and universities.  The results indicate whether the prices being paid by the colleges’ food service program are between the 25th and 75th percentiles. This helps food service directors and others see how competitive their prices are with other institutions. The comparative data helps in determining how effective food purchasing is and can improve buying efficiency.  Yearly comparisons aid in explaining budgeted food cost percent increases.


Individual Institution’s Benchmarking Projects in Student Affairs

Oregon State University carried out a major benchmarking project in the early 1990’s comparing itself to eight other universities. One of the areas studied in this project was Student Services, including Admissions and Recruitment. The University received comparative data on factors such as the average number of days from completed application to decision mailed and the average number of days of the receipt of inquiry to the first response. The institution was able to find out how effective they were being relative to the other schools in the areas of Admissions and Recruitment, along with other areas (Alstete, 1995).


Babson College engaged in a generic benchmarking project involving comparisons to organizations outside of higher education to establish best practices. One of the areas of study was their registration process. They met with representatives from hotels for their registration and check-in processes, Disney Corporation representatives for their technology advances, banks for their billing processes, and an accounting firm for their use of technology in recruitment. They found the businesses to be very responsive and helpful.


Institutions representing an international perspective have also been involved in the benchmarking process.  Alstete (1995) reported that Queensland University of Technology in Australia carried out a study in the Department of Counseling and Health, in conjunction with several other departments.  The first stage involved noncompetitive internal benchmarking, while the next stage would focus on external benchmarking activities.  Questionnaires and focus groups were used to gather the data. The data would be used to engage in services planning and carrying out changes in programs.



Housing Professionals Need for Benchmarking

Housing programs have always been very visible on campus due to the ongoing responsibilities of supporting the academic mission, providing clean, safe, affordable accommodations, being financially self-supporting, and meeting ever increasing needs and wants of parents and students. There is a current pressing need for construction of new housing at many institutions and for substantial renovation of existing housing at most institutions.  Beyond meeting increased demand for additional housing capacity, the additions and upgrades are needed to support the latest in communication technologies, to meet all new safety and accessibility codes, and to offer market grade amenities.   Students, parents, faculty, and various campus staff members are all stakeholders in the housing program.  Housing issues and concerns literally “hit people where they live.”  The large stakeholder group provides extra motivation for housing professionals to have continuous improvement and customer service programs in place.  Obtaining quality information on effective practices in the housing field becomes a very high priority for housing professionals as they plan for improvements in their services and facilities.


The Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I) Leadership in the Development of Benchmarking for Student Housing

One of the primary responsibilities of the ACUHO-I Executive Board is to regularly listen to the membership, identify member needs, and provide products and services that meet those needs.  Members have often expressed needs for comparative information with other housing programs in higher education and for the identification of effective practices in residential programs.  In the middle 1990s the Executive Board reviewed some benchmarking studies conducted by other higher education associations and concluded that ACUHO-I did not have the expertise or other resources required to properly conduct benchmarking studies for its members at that time.  This was a very uncomfortable position for the Board but an accurate reflection of reality at that time.


In the spring of 1997, representatives from a company that specializes in higher education benchmarking proposed a partnership with ACUHO-I to provide benchmarking studies for housing professionals.  The proposal was promising enough to the Board that focus groups were conducted at the summer 1997 ACUHO-I annual conference to ascertain if there was member interest.  Members were enthusiastic about the prospect of having benchmarking services specifically designed for housing and residence life operations. 


Several points were made clear during the focus groups.  Most participants said they would participate in an ACUHO-I benchmarking program.  It was acceptable if ACUHO-I was in a partnership with a for-profit company but it was critical that housing practitioners identify studies that were needed, define terms and play the major role in content development.  They also wanted to enroll in studies through ACUHO-I with payments made to the association.  In short, they wanted assurance that this was an ACUHO-I program with significant practitioner involvement.


The Executive Board reviewed the results of the focus groups and decided to enter into a formal partnership with the company.  A group of members was identified to begin working with the company to plan for the initial studies.  Four task forces had been formed as part of the association’s strategic planning process.  This benchmarking group became the fifth strategic planning task force.


The Executive Board and the five strategic planning task force chairs met with consultant Don Norris in Chicago, IL October 1997.  Several very important concepts were discussed at the meeting that changed ACUHO-I’s approach to the benchmarking project.  The need to become more flexible and get new products and services into members’ hands more quickly was made very clear.  We were advised to “decouple” product development from the governance process.  The implication for the benchmarking project was changing the benchmarking group from a strategic planning task force to a product development team (PDT) with a short, focused goal.  The Executive Board set expected outcomes and operational limits and charged the executive director, association treasurer and the PDT chair with making it happen.  Periodic reports were expected but the Board did not need to get involved in the details of accomplishing the task.


After the October 1997 meeting, work proceeded on two fronts.  The executive director and principals in the company negotiated a contract that was signed in January 1998.  Simultaneously, the PDT began working with the company to decide which studies were needed and in what order to offer them.  Two types of studies were planned: satisfaction studies and studies of administrative practices.  Given the emphasis on getting products to the members quickly, it was decided that the satisfaction studies would be done first since that type of study was familiar to most on the PDT and to the company.


A resident satisfaction study was the first developed and it was offered during winter and spring 1998.  Results were available just prior to the annual conference July 1998.  The goal of getting this service in members’ hands quickly was met.  It took less than a year to get from the initial concept discussion with the Board to program enrollment.  From focus groups ascertaining probable program value to analysis of first year survey results took one year.  The Benchmarking PDT accomplished their mission of assisting in bringing this first study into being.  It was clear that continual input from a similar group would be required to develop other studies.  A Benchmarking Services Team was charged with the ongoing responsibility of working with the company and developing new studies.


The resident satisfaction study was very well received by members.  It differed from the satisfaction studies most housing programs had been regularly conducting in that the individual campus results could be compared with all others completing the survey as well as with a self-identified six-institution peer group.  The company’s expertise in data analysis and report writing resulted in final reports that were used by many participants to identify areas of strength and weakness within their housing program.  Many program improvements have been implemented as a result of the comparative data.


A study of resident assistant satisfaction was added the second year.  This too was well received by members.  Many improvements in structuring the resident assistant experience have resulted.


During the first and second years of offering the resident satisfaction studies, members requested a wide variety of additional types of reports and analyses.  Many new types of reports, analyses and other program enhancements were offered based on input from users.  One strength of the program is the continuing interaction among those using the services, the Benchmarking Services Team and the company. 


As the program grew and additional studies were envisioned, the company and ACUHO-I jointly made the decision to hire a consultant to provide assistance with three critical services: 1) listening to current and potential users and identifying their needs, 2) marketing all the studies to potential users, and 3) helping participants in the studies use the results to make improvements in their housing programs.  The first chair of the ACUHO-I Benchmarking Services Team retired from his housing position and became the first consultant to fill this position.


In the third year, a satisfaction study for apartments was offered.  User feedback had revealed that the living experience of residence hall and apartment residents was different enough to warrant separate studies for each.  This third study was well received by members.


As the initial contract neared completion, the ACUHO-I executive director and principals from the company evaluated the experience and identified several areas in which the contract could be improved.  A new three-year contract was signed effective July 1, 2000.


The need for a study of administrative practices was identified early in the planning process.  It was clear from the start that this study would be more complex and challenging than the satisfaction studies.  After about two years of preparation, an administrative study was offered in 2000.  The study was very comprehensive and included well defined terms.  Several significant problems were experienced with the administrative study.  The shear volume of information requested and the fact that information was requested about areas often not under the direct control of survey respondents were the biggest problems encountered by participants.  After having received the survey data, the company was challenged to present the large volume of information in ways that were both meaningful and easy to comprehend and use.  The conclusion reached after evaluating the first administrative study was that too much information was requested and that the results were too extensive and complex to be used easily by participants.  After extensive review, the decision was made to concentrate on a much smaller list of items critical to housing personnel and to correlate these administrative practices with resident satisfaction.


Information from the studies has been shared with the membership through sessions at the ACUHO-I annual conference and at regional conferences, through articles in the ACUHO-I newsmagazine, the Talking Stick, and on the ACUHO-I and company Web sites.  A workshop was also held that helped participants understand and use the results.


Some Lessons

Several lessons are evident after reviewing the evolution of ACUHO-I’s benchmarking program: 1)   The availability of a for-profit partner with economic incentives to invest in instrument and

report development was necessary for the project to move quickly from the “discovery of need” stage to the “delivery of product” stage.

2)     A key to the program’s success has been continual listening to and responding to user


3)     Having college housing practitioners fully involved in product design and review ensured

that the products would meet member needs and also that members would be comfortable enrolling in the studies.

4)     New and improved products would not have been available in as timely a fashion if the

Executive Board had not authorized the executive director and a few volunteer leaders to make decisions and move the project forward. 

5)     The relationship between the association and the company is dynamic and requires regular

attention.  Failure to do so will result in minor differences of opinion becoming major problems. 


Regular communication between the executive director and company principals and among the executive director, benchmarking services team chair and the consultant have resulted in positive relationships and an on-going commitment to providing quality benchmarking services to housing professionals.



Marquette University

Marquette University has participated in the ACUHO-I/EBI Resident Study since its inception in 1998.  They have had an excellent return rate each year, with the lowest being 65% and their highest reaching 77%.  The data that they have collected during this time has been invaluable to their department's goal setting, problem solving and allocation of resources.  They have found many uses for the Resident Study:

Staff development

Each summer they devote a significant portion of their professional staff retreat to interpreting the resident student data.  They always celebrate the good news that they find in the data and discuss ways to congratulate others (RA's, custodians, public safety officers, desk receptionists) for the work they do that enhances student  satisfaction.  Then they look at the results that don't measure up as well.  They dissect this data by building a variety of demographic segments to get a more informed sense of sub population satisfaction.  They then identify a series of goals to address these factors, both at the departmental level and hall level.


This has been especially helpful in establishing a quiet environment in some of their halls.  Students' satisfaction suggests that several of their halls are too noisy.  This is powerful information to the hall staff as they establish and enforce quiet hours.

Communicating with other departments:

Several of the factors that are reported on the study reflect on the work performed by staff in other departments.  The Dean of Residence Life writes to the directors of public safety, dining services, and facilities services, providing an overview of the study and a summary of the results that pertain to their department.  This is typically followed by a discussion including the Dean and senior level staff from those departments to help problem solve with areas where they don't measure up against their select six or against their previous results.

Articles in the faculty staff newsletter "News and Views" and the student newspaper "The Marquette Tribune":

The Dean of Residence Life contacts the editors for these two publications and encourages them to feature a story about the study and what the results say about their students' residence hall experience.  This provides a lot of positive, yet balanced, press about their department, particularly when they can tie increased satisfaction with new programs or services.

Sharing results with the Residence Life Advisory Board:

This board is always interested in seeing their study results and, since it is comprised

of several students, the dean of admissions, the food service director, and a parent, they often get important qualitative information about these results.  They also share the results with RHA members, with hall councils and with students who attend open forums with residence life staff.

These students add helpful insights into why some factors may be low and what they can do to improve them.  These are also excellent opportunities to discuss why some things, (particular policies or amenities) may not be feasible and to examine alternative measures to increase


Analyzing building specific results:

They use the study results as one indicator of performance in evaluating hall staff.  They typically find that the study results reinforce, rather than contradict, other performance indicators, and that staff respond well to the concrete data.

Sharing pertinent data with work groups to assist them in making decisions or recommendations: A work group of faculty and student affairs staff is in the early stages of developing a plan to create multicultural living/learning floors in one of their residence halls.  There is considerable debate about the need for this and about which hall might be best suited for the program if they offer it.  Using hall specific and ethnicity data from the study has helped move the discussion

from simply sharing opinions and anecdotal stories to examining concrete data and has proven invaluable in their planning process.


They have also administered the RA study for the past three years and have made significant changes in their program as the result of the data collected.  The first year they administered the RA study they were quite surprised at the level of dissatisfaction with three areas:

1) compensation, 2) training, and 3) policies imposed upon RA's.  To learn more about specific concerns, 5 central staff members in their department each lead a focus group with 6-10 randomly selected RA's.  The feedback from these focus groups was consistent.  While the RA's appreciated the free room and board they were provided, they didn't view it as tangible.

Rather, they viewed the small monthly stipend as an indication of their worth to the university.  They reported that this contributed to lowering morale and the central staff concluded that this had a negative impact on their ability to recruit appropriate numbers of high quality students to apply for positions.


The training concerns all focused on their 3-credit education class that was required of all first semester classes.  The RA's in the focus groups were of one mind that the class took up too much time and required too much work.  For many, taking the class resulted in a course

overload and for some, the credits did not count toward graduation.  They also complained at the amount of work the class required, particularly at the end of the semester when they were having to attend to the stress experienced by their residents.


At the same time, the RA's were able to articulate a number of advantages that they enjoyed about the class, so didn't necessarily want to simply scrap it.  They offered a number of recommendations some workable, some not.


Lastly, the RA's pointed to what they described as restrictive policies regarding the number of weekends they could be away, and a cumbersome, didactic policy about consuming or being in the presence of alcohol, even when off campus.  When we suggested that we wanted this policy to cover all possibilities and be as black and white as possible, one RA responded that if central staff trusted them to make difficult decisions in emergency situations and critical incidents, they ought to trust their judgment with their behavior regarding alcohol.  They also cited these

as the primary reasons so many RA's would leave the position after just one year.


The central staff then created a series of recommendations to address these concerns and floated these to a second round of focus groups, made up of another random selection of RA's, being careful not to include any of those involved in the first round.  Based on their feedback, they made the following changes: 

§         They reallocated resources within the department to double the amount of the monthly stipend offered to RA's. 

§         They cut the required education class from three credits to one credit and reduced

§         The workload accordingly.

§         They also had the class meet for two hours per week for eight weeks, thus enabling them to delay the start of the class until the second week of the semester and finishing before

§         Thanksgiving.  This was done to give the RA's more breathing room during

§         The times of the semester when their jobs were most demanding. 

§         They eased up on the restrictions about being away on weekends and laid out a simple statement of expectations regarding alcohol. 

§         Lastly, they created an RA advisory committee to advise us on issues of importance to RA's.


The results of these changes have been remarkable.  Their recruitment of new RA's rose dramatically the next year and has remained high.  Morale is at an all time high and their retention rate has increased substantially.  The RA advisory committee is highly respected and will continue to serve their department well as they seek to stay current with the issues that are important to all RA's.


The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has been participating in the resident study since its inception in 1998. Benchmarking data is shared with Housing & Residential Life and University Dining Service staff to both measure satisfaction and progress and to plan for change. 

Examples of their use of the data are as follows:

§         University Dining Service

§         The University entered into a management agreement with Aramark in January 1998. 

§         Quality of dining hall food

It has increased (in 2001) by 23% as University Dining Services has begun enhanced menus, pan Geos (cooking in front of students at a themed station), enhanced salad bars, among other things.  Next fall, plans include introducing a new pizza concept, and standardization of minimal menu expectations in all six residential dining locations.

Satisfaction with dining facility hours:

A 30% increase has occurred from 1998. The department has made considerable strides by increasing service hours in all locations for dinner and most locations for lunch.  As well, last year they began a continuous dining concept (7 AM to 7 PM) in one location.  Future plans include adding another continuous dining location and extend the hours of one location to midnight. 

Food plan options:

There has been a 26% gain from 1998.  In 1998, the department had very basic plans  (21, 19, 14 and 10 meals per week).  In 2001, meal plans include a flex dine (food dollar) component, block plan (X number of meals per semester instead of per week, so students, who do not readily know about the missed meal factor in pricing a meal plan, don't feel like they are "losing" meals each week), and, for the fall 0f 2001, they've introduced an "unlimited plan" - eat as many times as students want and as much as they want any day.


There were a number of questions which they addressed through changes in staffing patterns:

Computing Facilities in the Residence Halls:

The department took the leadership of the computer labs out of their residential life programming person's job description and created a Coordinator of Residence hall Technology position.  The person in this new position lobbied for more improvements in the computer labs. Student satisfaction is up in 2001 by 16% from 1998.

Feeling of safety in one’s room:

In 1998, students hired by Housing & Residential Life (Night Managers) patrolled the halls during the evening hours.  They eliminated the Housing positions and now pay the University of Minnesota Police Department Security monitor staff (also student employees, but trained and supervised by the police) to patrol their halls. There has been a 10% increase in satisfaction since 1998. 


They also believe the use of security monitors as well as an increase in the number of community advisors has had an impact on the increased student satisfaction they have seen in other areas of safety and security.


The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point are very concerned about the quality of their residential living experience.  They are very interested in providing feedback on the hall environment, as well as finding out that their feedback is having an impact in terms of changes in their halls.  The ACUHO-I Benchmarking Surveys serve a very valuable function in providing students a positive vehicle for expression, as well as the possibility of comparing students’ responses with those at other campuses.  The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has participated in the ACUHO-I Resident Satisfaction Benchmarking Survey since its inception four years ago.  Although decisions related to the housing program are not made based solely on the results of the Benchmarking Survey, this instrument has been very beneficial in evaluating the department’s performance and suggesting improvements that lead to higher student satisfaction.


The results of the surveys have led to a number of positive changes in the Residential Living program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In general, the results have helped to support data gathered from additional assessment tools that are completed within the department.  They have also helped to formulate hypotheses for the upcoming year, as well as using this data to determine if these predictions have been accurate.


More specifically, the data from the surveys has directly aided in the evaluation of a number of specific practices in our program.  In terms of programming efforts, after receiving feedback on the surveys, a number of focus groups were formed to follow up on the concerns expressed by students about the current programmatic offerings.  It was decided that the following changes in this area needed to be made: 

§         “Less is more” theme:  offered fewer programs, with greater attention to their development and marketing; emphasized to staff that program presentations need to be shorter in duration.

§         Better understanding that residents want to be entertained when attending a presentation.

§         A push towards passive programming and informational bulletin boards has taken place.


With respect to room changes, the students indicated a need for more flexibility.  As a result, the following change occurred:  a new room change policy was incorporated that gives residents more options.  As opposed to being only able to change rooms once a semester, students have three opportunities to do so.


Community development and involvement is one of our central goals.  As part of the on- campus experience, residents need to feel that they are contributing to the larger group, as well as feeling included and respected.  As a result of the students’ feedback, more emphasis was placed on community involvement:

§         A continued appreciation for diversity occurred.  A task force was developed to focus on specific areas for growth. In addition, there has been an increased emphasis in our training on diversity issues

§         Residents are assisted to feel a part of their community

§         A revision of the First Six Weeks programs has occurred.


In terms of support for academic initiatives, the surveys provided ideas on areas that could be improved to provide increased chances for students to be successful in their studies.

Continuation of upgrades to computer labs and services has taken place.  Feedback was solicited from additional studies on how to better plan the physical environment in hall basements with respect to study areas. 


While continuing to view the campus as a safe and secure place to live, safety issues are an on-going concern of students and parents.  The residents saw safety as an important and positive issue.  To build on this, Residential Living staffs have continued to increase positive relations with campus security.  Residential Living has also been a part of the creation of a campus-wide crisis plan.


The feedback from the surveys has emphasized that students are continuing to become more consumer-oriented.  To work successfully with the residents, the staff has listened to resident concerns, provided information about future planning, and involved residents in decision-making.

§         The department presents the annual budget to the Residence Hall Association each year; students are educated about where their housing dollars are spent.

§         There have been increasing efforts to keep annual room and board fee increases at an acceptable level (example: 2-4 percent maximum increase)

§         Letters have been sent to parents, informing them of changes, and getting them involved in their student’s campus experience.

§         The department web page design has been added to and additional information has been provided.

§         Greater emphasis has been placed on environmental comfort levels within halls, i.e. temperature levels, hall cleanliness.

§         Increased communication has occurred between residents and the facilities area by a newsletter from the facilities office; the RHA co-advisor is from the Building Services area; notes have been left on the residents' doors once work orders have been completed; random follow-up calls to residents that had maintenance concerns have been carried out to check on the level of satisfaction of the students with the service they received.

§         Finally, with respect to facilities/building services, survey feedback has led to changes that resulted in greater physical comfort for students in the halls.


The ACUHO-I Benchmarking Surveys have provided valuable feedback that has been the catalyst for important changes within Residential Living at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.  The results have offered ideas for further research through focus groups, interviews, and other surveys.  The combined efforts of this research have led to greater student satisfaction with our on-campus living environment.


The University of Northern Iowa

The housing department at the University of Northern Iowa has been involved with benchmarking since ACUHO-I began its partnership with EBI.  They have used the “Resident Student” results for three years and the “Resident Assistant” survey information for two years.


Benchmarking through EBI/ACUHO-I has provided important supplemental data to the other assessment activity of their department and campus.  Combined with a variety of anecdotal and market study results, the benchmarking information has helped them with long range planning, has provided positive feedback which is affirmative for staff, has revealed weaknesses which needed to be addressed and has demonstrated to the campus a commitment to quality improvement.


Benchmarking their progress with other institutions has assisted them in gauging improvement and in discussions with others at the university.    In addition to looking carefully at their own operation for improvement, having a comparative base with other institutions has been helpful in establishing a context and priority for making decisions.


The results are reviewed by all department leadership staff, who review the data for strengths and weaknesses. The information is then shared with all department staff, who then engage in discussions about future planning.  In this planning process, the results are used in conjunction with other assessment processes. Priorities are established by departmental leadership and at other levels. The results are used to target resources and explain decision, as well as question assumptions and programs.


Strategic actions taken as a result of the benchmarking results include:

§         Placing more emphasis on relationships in RA training

§         Moving the assignments process on-line

§         Partnering with the Student Union to increase activities on campus

§         Installing weekend custodial service

§         Providing greater customer service to students

§         Placing greater emphasis and investment in the food service


The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, student satisfaction surveys are a vital part of providing service to residents. Over the years they’ve instituted surveys and focus groups on the ‘Quality of Life’, theme housing, staff satisfaction, and so forth. The challenge was in compiling questions, disseminating, and analyzing data, and, most important, doing something with the data.


UNC Chapel Hill partnered with ACUHO-I in using the EBI survey document, and has currently completed its fourth cycle. It’s ease of use, and compilation of results permits their staff to do what they do best, and that is student education and facilities. Time is spent in translating desired outcomes into actions. There are two major areas in which they concentrate: student education/support/community, and facility renewal. Both have received critical attention over the past several years, and results are readily apparent in the responses from students.



Residential Education

§         Data are reviewed with staff

§         Desired outcomes are established

§         Community Action Plans (CAPS) are developed

o       This includes staff programming initiatives, goals, and activities for all resident staff.

o       CAPS are part of the resident staff work plan, and evaluative criteria

§         Education grant criteria are set

§         Progress reviews and expectations are carried out

§         Satisfaction surveys/feedback are utilized to improve programs and services

Facility Improvements

§         Data are reviewed by staff

§         Short and long term goals are established

§         Budgets and schedules are developed

§         Staffing expectations are established

§         Satisfaction surveys/feedback are utilized to improve facilities and services


Rochester Institute of Technology

At Rochester Institute of Technology, they have participated in the benchmarking surveys since 1998, including the Resident Survey, the RA Survey, the Apartment Survey (twice), and the Administrative Survey (once).  After results are obtained, they are shared with the Vice President of Student Affairs, the Residence Life Management team, as well as other staff members.


With respect to implementing changes as a result of information from the surveys, one of the main areas of concern was the retention of RAs.  Utilizing the results of the survey led to a revamping of RA training and compensation. These changes have caused a positive increase in retention and the caliber of RAs. The emphasis in RA training is focused on a grounding in Student Development theory and preparation for functional areas.  Professional staff training has also been reviewed, with a strong emphasis being placed on current issues in Student Affairs and Student Development theory.


Future plans include working with the data to engage in original research and writing articles, as well as presenting information to academic deans and academic program advisors on information from the benchmarking research.


University of Arkansas-Fayetteville

They have used the resident satisfaction survey as a tool to:

§         Evaluate job descriptions of RAs and professional staff

§         Change the RA role to focus on interpersonal relationships, connecting residents to campus

§         Monitor perception of safety

§         Evaluate communication with residents

§         Assist in designing new housing

§         Provide feedback to all staff on our program

§         To better articulate their purpose in housing


They have also used articles in the Talking Stick on the RA Study even though they had not participated to initiate discussions with their RAs about their position.  (They did participate this year.) One thing they would like people to recognize is that even if they can't participate in the studies they can still gain valuable information and start dialogues in their own departments resulting in improvements.



Benchmarking has proven to be a very effective way to improve services and programs within Student Affairs and Student Housing.  The process of engaging in benchmarking can assist in dealing with uncertainty and rapid change through the discovery of best practices, greater efficiencies, and a clearer understanding of what works most effectively. Benchmarking practices have been of significant benefit to Student Affairs and Student Housing programs that have applied the results of their studies to improve the educational experience of students. Several professional associations, including NACUBO, NACUFS, and ACUHO-I have provided leadership to their membership through the development and implementation of benchmarking projects. While individual institutions have also carried out benchmarking surveys, the larger scale benchmarking projects have been carried out through the coordination of professional associations, the assistance of consulting firms such Educational Benchmarking, Incorporated.


The ultimate benefactors of the improved programs and practices within Student Affairs and Student Housing are the students in higher educational institutions. These students have gained added value to their education through the more effective delivery of programs and services as a result of participation in benchmarking surveys.




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