Student Satisfaction Surveys and Nonresponse: Ignorable Survey, Ignorable Nonresponse
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With an increasing reliance on satisfaction exit surveys to measure how university alumni qualify their experiences during their degree program, it is uncertain whether satisfaction is sufficiently salient, for some alumni, to generate distinguishable satisfaction scores between respondents and nonrespondents. This thesis explores whether, to what extent, and why nonresponse to student satisfaction surveys makes any difference to our understanding of student university experiences. A modified version of Michalos’ multiple discrepancies theory was utilized as the conceptual framework to ascertain which aspects of the student experience are likely to be nonignorable, and which are likely to be ignorable. In recognition of the hierarchical structure of educational organizations, the thesis explores the impact of alumnus and departmental characteristics on nonresponse error. The impact of survey protocols on nonresponse error is also explored. Nonignorable nonresponse was investigated using a multi-method approach. Quantitative analyses were based on a combined dataset gathered by the Graduate Student Exit Survey, conducted at each convocation over a period of three years. These data were compared against basic enrolment variables, departmental characteristics, and the public version of Statistic Canada’s National Graduate Survey. Analyses were conducted to ascertain whether nonresponse is nonignorable at the descriptive and analytical levels (form resistant hypothesis). Qualitative analyses were based on nine cognitive interviews from both recent and soon-to-be alumni. Results were severely weakened by external and internal validity issues, and are therefore indicative but not conclusive. The findings suggest that nonrespondents are different from respondents, satisfaction intensity is weakly related to response rate, and that the ensuing nonresponse error in the marginals can be classified, albeit not fully, as missing at random. The form resistant hypothesis remains unaffected for variations in response rates. Cognitive interviews confirmed the presence of measurement errors which further weakens the case for nonignorability. An inadvertent methodological alignment of response pool homogeneity, a misspecified conceptual model, measurement error (dilution), and a non-salient, bureaucratically-inspired, survey topic are proposed as the likely reasons for the findings of ignorability. Methodological and organizational implications of the results are also discussed.