Student Satisfaction

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ARC: Teaching: MEO: Fall 2002: Student Satisfaction

The Student Satisfaction With College/University Scale: An Empirical Investigation

Dr. Dennis Bristow
Associate Professor of Marketing
G.R. Herberger College of Business
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud, MN 56301
Phone: 320-654-5125
e-mail: dbristow at


Dr. Rajesh Gulati
Assistant Professor of Marketing
G.R. Herberger College of Business
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud, MN 56301


Dr. Kenneth Schneider
Distinguished Professor of Marketing
G.R. Herberger College of Business
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud, MN 56301


Dr. Jo Ann Asquith
Professor and Chair of Marketing
G.R. Herberger College of Business
St. Cloud State University
St. Cloud, MN 56301

The primary research objectives in this study were two fold: 1) to develop an assessment tool that could be readily adapted and used by college and university administrators at virtually any institution of higher learning to measure student satisfaction with that institution, and 2) to develop a scale that would readily facilitate statistical comparison of student satisfaction across a variety of demographic and/or cultural groups. The results of the study showed that the first research objective was successfully achieved in the form of the Student Satisfaction With College/University scale and that, with regard to the second research objective, that the scale could be used for cross-cultural and/or demographic comparisons of student satisfaction. Managerial implications, limitations of the study, and avenues for future research are discussed.


The United States Department of Education reports that as of 1998, some 14.5 million people were enrolled in colleges and universities in this country. Further, government projections indicate that by 2011, institutions of higher education in the U.S. will be brimming with between 17.2 million to 18.2 million students. Along with this increase in the number of students comes an increase in diversity as well. For example, between the years of 1988 and 1999, the number of men attending colleges/universities in this country increased by some six percent while the number of female students increased by approximately 16 percent. Between the years of 1998 and 2011, it has been predicted that the number of male students will increase by 14 percent while the number of women will increase by nearly 25 percent. In addition, government indicators suggest that between now and 2011, younger students (i.e., 18-24 years of age) will become significantly more prevalent on college campuses.

Perhaps the most important change on college campuses is represented by the increased cultural diversity of the student populations on campuses nation wide. U.S. Department of Education statistics indicate that as of 1998, nearly 4 million minority students were attending colleges/universities in this country. Since the early 1980s the percentage of Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American students enrolled in colleges and universities across the country has increased significantly -- from fifteen to twenty-three percent (U.S. Department of Education 1997).

Along with these increases in the demographic and cultural diversity on college campuses comes an increase in diversity of needs and expectations. While the United States has for decades been referred to as a "cultural melting pot", such a label is out-dated, inappropriate, and inaccurate. The concept of a cultural melting pot suggests that as members of different cultures enter the United States, their cultural values and beliefs are somehow melded with the existing cultural values and beliefs of this country. In truth, a much more accurate perception of the cultural diversity of the United States is represented by the phrases espoused by Shim and Gehrt (1996), who referred to the demographic makeup of the United States as an "ethnic mosaic," and by Panko and Smith (1997) who described the cultural diversity of the U.S. as "America's rainbow." Such descriptive labels suggest that cultural groups within the borders of the United States maintain their ethnic identity and seek to preserve their cultural traditions and values (French, Jordan and Tempest 1990). And, as noted above, with those traditions and values come very real and varied customer expectations and needs (i.e., Bristow and Asquith 1998; Amyx and Bristow 1999; Bristow and Amyx 1998). The challenge for marketers, and for college and university administrators, is to recognize that those differences do indeed exist and to develop marketing strategies accordingly.

The Marketing Concept in Higher Education

Over the years, due at least in part to the afore mentioned cultural diversity on college campuses across the nation, more and more college and university administrators have gradually adopted a marketing approach as they seek to attract and retain top quality students. For example, the 'marketing concept', which features an emphasis on satisfaction of both consumer and organizational needs, has been applied in university settings in numerous studies (i.e., Amyx and Bristow 1999; Bristow 1998; Pate 1993; Chadwick and Ward 1987; Reed, Lahey, and Downey 1984). Researchers and administrators alike have come to acknowledge that needs, and the degree to which those needs are satisfied by a given product, vary greatly across consumer groups (Amyx and Bristow 2001; Bristow 1998; Sirvanci 1996; Bristow, Mowen, and Krieger 1994). While much of the existing work in this area has been devoted to identifying and measuring differences in consumer groups' needs and expectations, much less effort has been devoted to the actual measurement of college student satisfaction with the educational product. The work reported in this manuscript presents the initial work on the development of an assessment instrument designed specifically to address that gap in the application of the marketing concept and a focus on customer orientation in higher education.

The Study

The focus of the research was the development of a paper-and-pencil assessment instrument designed to measure a student's level of satisfaction with their decision to attend the college/university at which they are enrolled. The specific goals of the study were 1) to develop an assessment tool that could be readily adapted and used by college and university administrators at virtually any institution of higher learning to measure student satisfaction with that institution, and 2) to develop a scale that would readily facilitate statistical comparison of student satisfaction across a variety of demographic and/or cultural groups.

Churchill's (1979) paradigm, which features domain specification and item generation, data collection, measure purification, and the assessment of the internal reliability of the instrument, was used in the study.


Participants in the scaled development phase of the study were 79 undergraduate students enrolled in various marketing courses at a large mid-western state university. Responses to demographic items in this phase of the research showed that 38 female and 41 male students completed the survey instrument, and that only 4 of the respondents were international students.


Item Generation. In order to generate an initial pool of item statements to be included in the Student Satisfaction with College/University Scale (SSCU), the authors of this manuscript reviewed several existing consumer satisfaction scales in the literature. After those reviews, the authors elected to adapt the items included in Oliver's (1993) Satisfaction With Course Scale, which was developed to measure students' degree of satisfaction with a course she/he had recently completed. The original six-item scale exhibited adequate internal reliability (.92) and featured a Likert-type format with category endpoints ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). Those six items were reviewed by the authors and were then reworded to more accurately fit the scope of this research. In addition, the authors sought to develop a satisfaction assessment tool that followed the recommendations of Winer (1999) and avoided a myopic view of measuring student satisfaction based only upon end-of-term student evaluations of the professor/instructor.

Measure Purification. Each of the reworded SSCU items was reviewed by five academicians and several university students (these reviewers were not otherwise involved in the study) for content validity, clarity, and redundancy. Those reviews resulted in the elimination of one item from further scale development. In a manner consistent with the work of Oliver (1993) on the original Satisfaction With Course scale, the revised five statements were written into a six-point Likert format with response categories ranging from (1) strongly disagree to (6) strongly agree. To further examine the pool of items for problems in wording, phrasing or clarity, each statement was reviewed by six outside readers (four undergraduate students and two research assistants) who were asked to examine the items and to record any related problems. The readers reported no difficulty in understanding or interpreting the statements. The five-item SSCU, along with several demographic questions, was administered to the 79 undergraduate students involved in the study. Table 1 presents the final five items included in the SSCU.


Place Table 1 About Here


Results - Assessment of Internal Reliability

As recommended by Churchill, Ford, and Walker (1974), the initial stage in investigating the psychometric properties of the SSCU was to examine the internal consistency of the five items included in the scale. The statistical analyses revealed that the scale's overall Cronbach alpha was .944. Based upon this finding, in a manner consistent with the writings of Churchill (1979), the authors concluded that the items included in the SSCU scale adequately captured a single construct. As a subsequent step in the analysis of the internal reliability of the SSCU , the correlation of each scale item with the total score was examined. As suggested by Churchill (1979), if a scale item were to exhibit an item-to-total correlation of .25 or less, that item would not be included in further analyses. Table 2 presents the item-to-total correlations for the five SSCU items and shows that those correlations ranged from a low of .67 (item #1) to a high of .93 (item #4). Accordingly, all five items from the SSCU scale were retained and included in subsequent analyses.

Once again following the process outlined by Churchill (1979), the next step in the analyses of the SSCU involved common factor analysis to examine the a priori specification of the component structure of the scale. It was expected that the factor analysis procedure would result in the identification of a one-factor solution. As presented in Table 2, a common factors procedure with a varimax rotation and no n-factor specified resulted in the extraction of a single factor. The final scale structure and factor loadings for the SSCU scale are shown in Table 2.


Place Table 2 About Here


Discussion and Application of the SSCU Scale

The primary objective of this study was to develop and test the psychometric properties of an assessment tool with which administrators in higher education could reliably and efficiently measure student satisfaction with the college/university of interest. In addition, the researchers sought to develop a tool that could be easily be adapted for application at any institution of higher learning and that would facilitate cross-cultural comparisons of student satisfaction. The results of the study provide compelling evidence that the first of those objectives has been achieved . The Student Satisfaction with College/University scale demonstrated adequate internal reliability (Cronbach alpha = .944) and, as predicted, is unidimensional. Regarding the second objective of the work, pending further research with more ethnically and culturally diverse participants, and only minimal changes (i.e., inserting the name of the college/university of interest), the items in the SSCU might be readily applied in virtually any institution of higher learning in the United States.

With perhaps a bit more adaptation (i.e., translation of scale items into different languages), the scale might also be effectively applied in institutions across the globe. Applications of a resulting translated SSCU, however, should be accompanied by a re-assessment of the psychometric properties of the scale. Language translations can and do later the properties of measurement scales, including its factor structure (see, for example, Rodgers and Schneider 1993).

To further demonstrate the applicability of the SSCU in a university setting, the authors of this manuscript offer the following information garnered from student responses to the scale. For example, the mean scale score for student satisfaction with the university of interest was 21.2. From the perspective of university administration, this finding appears somewhat promising but should also be reason for concern. More specifically, with a SSCU scale range of 25 (5-item scale with response categories from 1 to 6; minimum score possible = 5; highest score possible = 30), the observed respondent mean scale score indicates that student participants were only slightly satisfied with the university. For example, a mean scale score of 17.5 or less would indicate at least marginal dissatisfaction with the university. On the other hand, a mean scale score greater than 17.5 would indicate that students were, at best, only somewhat satisfied with the college or university. However, when one considers that a student who was very satisfied with the university would achieve a SSCU score of approximately 25, the observed scale mean of 21 suggests that the university at which the study was conducted may have more to accomplish in terms of satisfying the needs of its students. While complete or total student satisfaction with the university would be an unrealistic expectation, when university administrators reviewed the results of this study, they indicated that those results were reason for concern and warranted further research.

In an attempt to further demonstrate the applicability and usefulness of the SSCU scale, the researchers included several demographic items in the questionnaire used in this study. Specifically, as is reported in the next few paragraphs, students completed questions regarding 1) gender, 2) ethnicity, and 3) grade point average. The answers to questions such as these are designed to enable researchers/administrators who employ the SSCU to effectively segment the student population at their college/university and to make statistical comparisons between those segments. For demonstration purposes only (due to the relatively small n and the lack of cultural diversity of the sample), the researchers in the study used ANOVA to examine possible group differences (gender, grade point average, and ethnicity) in student satisfaction with the university.

Student Satisfaction and Gender. While the authors were not prepared to state a directional hypothesis regarding the relationship between the gender of the student and student satisfaction with the institution, it was expected that gender differences in satisfaction might be observed. Such an expectation was based upon the literature indicating that demographic differences often times result in differences in one's expectations, perceptions, and behaviors (i.e., Bristow, Mowen and Kreiger 1994; Bristow and Asquith 1998; Amyx and Bristow 1999). In order to empirically investigate the expected gender differences, the data was analyzed using ANOVA. The results showed that female students tended to be somewhat less satisfied (mean = 20.5) with the university than were their male counterparts (mean = 21.8). Such a finding, while not statistically significant in this study, suggests to college/university administrators who use the SSCU scale at their university that gender differences in satisfaction levels with the institution might be expected. Accordingly, administrators might prepare to further explore various factors related to the observed relationship.

Student Satisfaction and International/Domestic Students. This section of the manuscript is intended to illustrate the manner in which the SSCU might be used in future assessment situations. The statistical findings reported here-in are, therefore, presented only to provide the reader with an idea of how the SSCU might be used to investigate possible cultural/ethnic differences in student satisfaction with the college/university experience. The specific statistics reported here are, by themselves, meaningless and the reader is cautioned to refrain from drawing any conclusions from those statistics. The value of the information contained in this section of the manuscript is in providing the reader with a glimpse of how the SSCU might be used in a more culturally/ethnically diverse assessment situation.

Given the previously discussed relationship between cultural values and beliefs and differences in consumer expectations, perceptions, and behaviors, it would be reasonable for college/university administrators to explore potential ethnic/cultural differences in the student satisfaction with the institution. Although the participants in this study represented, for the most part, a single cultural/ethnic group (i.e., Caucasian) that reflected the overall ethnic make-up of the student body at the university where the research was conducted, for purposes of demonstrating the applicability of the SSCU scale, the authors included an item on the questionnaire that asked students to indicate if they were an international student. Despite the fact that descriptive statistics revealed that only four international students completed the questionnaire, the authors conducted an ANOVA analysis to illustrate possible cultural differences in student satisfaction. The results showed that international students were significantly less satisfied (mean = 15.8) with the university than were the other students (mean = 21.5). Again, given the few international student participants in the study, the statistical significance of this finding is of little importance. However, the finding does suggest that administrators at colleges/universities that are targeting international students may be well advised to consider and investigate the relationship between ethnicity/culture and student satisfaction. Pending further investigation with more culturally diverse groups, the SSCU scale may provide administrators with a tool that can be used to accomplish that task.

Student Satisfaction and Grade Point Average. Student grade point average is another factor that the authors believed might be related to students' satisfaction with the university. Once again, the make-up of the student sample used in the study limits statistical significance of any findings related to this relationship, but the importance of considering that relationship is well taken. For example, the authors of this manuscript offer the that students who have experienced success in their academic programs would be likely to be more satisfied with the university they attend than would students who might be less successful in terms of academic achievement. That is, it is possible that students with higher GPAs would be more satisfied with the college/university than would be students with lower GPAs.

In order to explore the proffered relationship between GPA and student satisfaction, the researchers employed a tercel split (low, medium, high GPA) of the respondents based upon their GPA scores. The ANOVA procedure revealed mixed, statistically non-significant results regarding this relationship. For example, as expected, students with low GPAs (self-reported GPA = 2.95 or less) indicated less satisfaction with the university (mean = 21.2) than did students with high GPAs (self-reported GPA = 3.25 or higher; mean = 22.6). Unexpectedly, however, students with medium GPAs (self-reported GPA = 2.96 - 3.24) expressed the lowest level of satisfaction (mean = 19.7) among the three student groups. It is important to note that the student participants in this study represent a biased sample of GPAs. In the college of business where the study was conducted, majors must have a minimum GPA of 2.65 or higher in order to be admitted to a major. As such, the sample in the study presents a relatively limited range in GPA scores. In essence, the differences between low, medium, and high GPA students in the study may be less meaningful than if a broader sample of students, based on CPA, were included in the study.

Yet another possible application of the SSCU scale focuses on the expectations of the students involved. As stated by Oliver (1997), "Satisfaction is the consumer's fulfillment response. It is a judgement that a product or service feature, or product or service itself, provides a pleasurable level of consumption-related fulfillment." (p. 13). In less technical terms, we translate this definition in a university setting to mean that satisfaction is the students' evaluation of their education in terms of whether that education meets their need or expectations.

The SSCU provides a succinct and effective tool for the measurement of overall student satisfaction. If administered across universities the scale could also supply students with an easy method of comparison when selecting a college or university. If students are satisfied this results in positive word-of-mouth and loyalty (retention), which may in turn translate to continued financial support. Dissatisfaction, on the other hand, may lead to switching behavior (transfer to another college or university) and/or negative word-of-mouth.

Limitations, Applications, and Avenues for Future Research

To assess the internal reliability of the SSCU Scale, this study gathered data utilizing a convenience sample of undergraduate marketing students. Further, this student sample was approximately 99 percent Caucasian. The limitations in this study, therefore, pertain to (a) the type of sample used, (b) the sampling frame utilized, and (c) the racial makeup of the sampled students. Although the use of a convenience sample does not present a serious limitation (Calder, Phillips, and Tybout1981) such a sample does present both positive and negative elements. Indeed, such a sample, when used in exploratory consumer research such as this, offers the researcher optimal experimental control and reduces the potential for extraneous variables. Further, since the SSCU scale is designed specifically for use with college students, the sample of participants in the study was highly appropriate. In the future, however, researchers are encouraged to investigate the applicability of the SSCU and the generalizability of the results of this study across student samples representing various ethnic and cultural groups as well as in diverse geographic settings.

A second limitation of this work, an important avenue for future research, involves the investigation of the construct validity of the SSCU. The focus of this study was to determine the internal reliability of a new measure. This focus limited the scope of the investigation conducted here. Specifically, no tests were conducted to determine the discriminant validity of the SSCU measure and therefore the construct validity of this scale has not yet been established.

Given these limitations, the authors of this manuscript urge researchers to submit the newly developed Student Satisfaction With College/University scale to further investigation. More specifically, to enhance the applicability of the SSCU scale, the internal reliability of the measure should be tested using representative student samples from various universities and with more ethnically and culturally diverse samples. Further, the SSCU Scale should be compared to other existing scales and tests should be conducted to establish its convergent and discriminant validity. Perhaps the MultiTrait-MultiScale matrix method (Bristow and Mowen 1998) could be employed to accomplish that task. Related avenues for further research would include the relationship between students' satisfaction with the college/university and (a) their level of involvement with and participation in student clubs, sororities, fraternities, and various other student organizations, (b) their year in school, (c) the number and extent of commitments to work and other non-school activities, and (d) their job/career prospects after graduation. In addition, research with a focus on the delineation of educational elements that contribute to/detract from student satisfaction with the educational experience could also be pursued. Also, a longitudinal perspective to the research on the SSCU could be incorporated by measuring satisfaction among alumni some years following graduation. Such work would again be consistent with the writings of Leon Winer (1999) and his call for satisfaction assessment that focuses on the student's career preparation and success as related to his/her educational experience.

Finally, the SSCU can be used by university managers to investigate cases of non-retention. Many universities experience a significant loss of students over time, especially after the freshman year. Many reasons for leaving a university are either uncontrollable or positive from the school's point of view, including low academic performance, financial constraints and so on. But, other reasons may be under the control of university enrollment management officers. Administering the SSCU to a sample of non-retainees may explain some portion of this behavior as being caused by dissatisfaction with the institution, which may in turn lead to factors that can be controlled by the administration of the school.  


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Table 1

Student Satisfaction with College/University (SSCU) Scale Items

SSCU Scale Items

1. Attending *_____ has worked out as well as I thought it would.

2. I am satisfied with my decision to attend *_____.

3. I have truly enjoyed attending *_____.

4. I am happy that I decided to enroll at *_____.

5. Being a student at *____ has been a good experience.

* The appropriate university/college name would be used to complete

these blanks in each item from the Student Satisfaction with College/University scale.

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