May 10, 1999

New satisfaction index shows student priorities

by Josh Renaud
staff assistant

Bureaucratic runaround, lack of parking space, and inefficient communication are just a few of the problems Gary Grace, vice-chancellor for Student Affairs, is aiming to eliminate.

As part of its strategic planning process, the Office of Student Affairs recently released the results of its Student Satisfaction Index. The comprehensive survey asked students what is important to them and asked them how they felt the University was doing in those areas. Grace plans to use the results of the survey to map out what the Office of Student Affairs will focus on when making plans for future improvements.

"This is going to be our marching agenda for the next four or five years," Grace said. "We're going to put groups together to find out more information and assemble teams to develop strategies for solving each of these issues."

One of those issues, Grace said, is bureaucratic runaround. Talking with student focus groups has helped planners develop ideas for eliminating this feeling.

"Instead of telling students we'll get back with them, what we want to do is to try and serve them immediately, regardless of what office they go to," Grace said. "We're going to cross-train our staff to answer a wide variety of questions, because we want to reduce the complaints and the sense that students are being run around a lot."

The perennial parking problem topped students' priority lists and ranked lowest in student satisfaction. Grace said that the administration was addressing the situation, but needed to do a better job of communicating its plans to students.

"One of the things we're planning to do this year is raise the parking fee from $8.00 a credit to $12.00 a credit," Grace said. "The reason that fee is going up 50 percent is that we're building a brand new parking garage that will be open in the fall. [Also], there is an aggressive parking plan that [will replace] many of [the garages], because they were originally built as temporary structures."

"We're going to send out a communication this summer that will help students understand what their parking fees are for, why they're high, and also to put them in the context of what [other] urban campuses pay. We want to put all that information forward, so [students] understand it's not just a faceless bureaucracy that's raping them," he said.

It's that sort of explaining and communicating of intentions that Grace said UM-St. Louis needs to improve on.

"It's not enough to put stuff in the student guide. It's not enough to put it in the schedule of classes. It's not enough to put it in the catalog," he said.

"Even if the information is there, we can't just sit smugly by and say it's your responsibility to read it. We've got to do it differently."

Grace said he hopes to be able to increase student satisfaction in the University's weak areas, and to keep checking every few years by doing more surveys.

"I don't have the answer for it yet," he said, "but that's why we're studying it."

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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