Binghamton University administrators gathered to discuss improvements in student well-being, following a campus-wide survey given last spring.

On Oct. 12, the BU Healthy Campus Initiative, B-Healthy, held a presentation and discussion on the results of the pilot Student Wellbeing Institutional Support Survey (SWISS). SWISS was created by the Butler University Institute for Wellbeing, and was designed to measure student welfare on an institutional level by asking students how they feel about the support and emphasis the University gives on fundamental areas of student life. The anonymous survey measures basic needs, social life, mental and physical health, self-purpose, intellectual well-being, inclusiveness and diversity.

Universities nationwide have an opportunity to enroll in the pilot program for the entire 2021-2022 academic year. The BU Healthy Campus Initiative enrolled the University into SWISS and conducted the survey during the spring 2021 semester. The survey was sent out to a random sample of 5,000 students via email. Students who completed the survey were automatically put into a raffle of 10 Visa gift cards ranging in value from $25 to $100.

Several campus administrators attended the SWISS results presentation, a part of the larger Healthy Campus Summit Fall Workshop Series, including Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs, Katharine Ellis, senior director of communications and marketing and Kim Yousey-Elsener, director of student affairs assessment and head of the University’s SWISS implementation. The presentation was broken into a slideshow showcasing the data of the pilot survey and was followed with small roundtable discussions on the impact of the results and ways to improve student well-being on campus.

Yousey-Elsener believes the metrics and overall design of the SWISS caters to BU’s goals to provide a more holistic approach to identifying and strengthening student well-being.

“We had been using a different survey that measured individual student behavior but needed different information in order to inform our practice,” Yousey-Elsener wrote in an email. “We began searching for one that looked more at students’ perceptions of how the University is supporting health and wellness so when the SWISS was released we were excited to try it.”

However, the survey only saw 333 student responses from a 5,000-student pool. This is lower than the targeted 1,000 responses in order to make the data usable according to the BU Healthy Campus Initiative website.

Yousey-Elsener acknowledged the low response rate as a limitation to the data, pointing to COVID-19 as a possible factor. While Yousey-Elsener does not want to make the data public due to possible inaccuracies from a small sample, she looks forward to administering SWISS in the near future.

“With COVID-19 having an impact on our campus experience and environment last February and therefore affecting responses, I am really interested in comparing this data with future administrations of the survey to see what changes as we move more toward ‘normal,’” Yousey-Elsener wrote. “To me, that will help sort out what was part of the COVID-19 effect and what areas need to be focused on.”

Students like Matthew Murray, a junior majoring in biology, were not aware that such a survey existed. While Murray supported the University being proactive in gauging student well-being, he understood the low response rate as students often ignore such emails, especially when it does not provide enticing incentives.

“I am unaware of a lot of the survey emails they send out, majority because they go to my spam email,” Murray said. “I feel they could have more responses if they not only better incentivize feedback but also get the word out better.”

Olivia DiPalermo, a senior majoring in history, shared Murray’s sentiments but hoped the University would take steps to address student issues using the results.

“I think that it is good that the campus is trying to reach out to students for feedback on student well-being and on-campus life but only if the University is actually planning to take steps to address the responses given by students,’’ DiPalermo said. “I definitely think the University should better incentivize students to take these surveys because I know myself and others see these kinds of emails from BU and delete them without consideration.”

One positive Yousey-Elsener took away from the pilot survey was the level of diversity within a small sample size. According to the presentation, the response demographics were 70 percent heterosexual, 58 percent white and 62 percent cisgender female, compared to the Butler University benchmark of 78 percent, 72 percent and 72 percent respectively.

Yousey-Elsener believes the diverse group relative to the benchmark is a small victory. She hopes the responses will be more diverse when the University plans to administer SWISS again within the next two to three years.

“One thing that we are always thinking about is how our health- and wellness-related data reflects our overall student population,” Yousey-Elsener wrote. “When we administer the survey in the future, one focus will be getting students from lots of diverse backgrounds and identities to respond so that their voices can be included when we are using the data.”