Freshman survey: vague & unreliable

For the first time since the 80’s, Castleton State College gave the Cooperative Institutional Research Program to the incoming freshman class. The survey is used to get an idea of the academic, political, and familial views and overall self-image of the college’s new recruits.While the study remains a good jumping-off point for administrators to tackle some student issues, it shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than a vague and somewhat unreliable way to view the student body and college as a whole.

Surveys themselves are a good way to gather information about a large group of people in a relatively short amount of time with very little initial work put in by the people handing out the survey (designing a survey is a very different story). Surveys are given out, participants are asked to be as truthful as they can with their answers and then it’s all tallied up and the results are given.

And with the trust that people will put down only the truth in a survey comes the major problem with a survey like the CIRP. Especially with an incoming class of 17 through 19-year-olds who are, more than likely, leaving home for an extended amount of time for the first time in their lives.

There’s no guarantee that what people are putting down on paper is the truth. Many do, but many mark down the first thing that comes to mind, the first answer their pencil hits, or lie outright. As an incoming freshman, the last thing on any of their minds is a little survey enclosed in their “Welcome to Castleton!” student packet or given out in FYS.

The excitement of a new start in a new place meeting new people with a plethora of new opportunities is far too exciting to waste even a few minutes on a student survey.

Or maybe the opposite is true. Our students, the mature and forward thinking group that they are, may be vastly more honest in their answers than incoming classes at other schools. Sure, the national average says CSC freshman drink more than usual, have lower self-esteem and don’t participate in student activities but maybe their students just didn’t give a damn. Maybe they were too drunk to read the questions properly.

A nice, loose outline, sure, but to take the CIRP as any more than that and spend time on trying to get through to the new class of CSC students would be a waste of time. Like all things, in time, self-image, esteem, and work habits will change (most for the better) through the natural four-year progression of a college student. Surveys, for all they’re worth, are the most inaccurate form of study because of intentional deception, poor memory, misunderstanding of the questions and lack of effort. A good starting point, sure, but to look at it as an accurate and inarguable representation of incoming students is to put too much faith into something that many surveyed probably didn’t think twice about.

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