Higher Education Surveys


ModernThink offers a number of fully customizable survey instruments within higher education, each with unparalleled benchmarking capabilities that range from as broad as Carnegie Classification to as specific as aspirational peers for a given college. Our database contains survey information from more than 1,200 institutions ranging from small liberal arts colleges to large research universities as well as both 4-year and 2-year colleges. The depth of data at our disposal, coupled with the agility of our proprietary survey engine, allow us to provide uniquely tailored client solutions and high-touch customer service and project management.

Our surveys are designed to gather, summarize and synthesize feedback from a wide variety of campus stakeholders and then to help leaders understand key themes, trends and patterns so that they can make data-driven decisions. Their analysis is enhanced by tapping into ModernThink’s unrivaled database of workplace metrics and best practices so that they can see how they compare to peers as well as how others are dealing with many of the same challenges that they face.

Faculty & Staff Engagement Survey

The ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© is specifically designed to measure the organizational dynamics and competencies unique to institutions of higher education and is used as the principal assessment tool in the annual Great Colleges to Work For® program. The survey instrument measures the extent to which faculty and staff are involved and engaged in your institution and ultimately, the health of the culture and quality of the workplace experience.

The survey statements in the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© themselves, and the associated scales/dimensions, are derived not just from ModernThink research but also from existing employment engagement research. Insights into the drivers, competencies, and behaviors that influence employee engagement from The Conference Board, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The Baldrige Foundation and more were all considered in the development and ongoing maintenance of our instrument.

Within higher education there are structures and dynamics that are unique to higher education , for example, the experience of shared governance; the dynamics between faculty and staff; and the perceived understanding and balance of an institution’s mission of teaching, research, and service. Such dynamics are rarely considered in generalized employee engagement research. However, given our understanding of how important these elements are within Higher Education we have developed survey items that specifically address these critical topics.

ModernThink regularly convenes a blue-ribbon panel of experts and professionals from across higher education to solicit input and review the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© to ensure that it remains current and reflective of today’s academic workplace. The most recent panel was convened in 2021 to address workplace changes influenced by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The core ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© includes 55 belief statements and 5 Faculty Experience statements, intended for Faculty and Adjunct Faculty respondents. The instrument utilizes a five-point agreement scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Sometimes Agree/Sometimes Disagree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree), along with a Not Applicable response option. The core survey instrument also includes a 20-item benefits satisfaction component, two open-ended questions, and eight demographic questions (e.g., Gender, Age, Race/Ethnicity, Job Classification,School/College and Department/Division).

The belief statements of the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© are typically grouped and reported out in a series of dimensions and indices (Note: we use the term
dimensions in lieu of scales, the composition of the dimensions is determined by confirmatory factor analysis).

  • Compare your campus climate to that of peer institutions by size, region, Carnegie, and more
  • Gather employee insights on a new initiative, project, or practice
  • Develop a strategic plan or evaluate the effectiveness of strategic plan implementation
  • Fulfill accreditation or funding requirements
  • Measure campus engagement before, during, or after a change in leadership
  • Assess differences in campus climate across a state or regional college system

In partnership with NCCI (the Network for Change and Continuous innovation in Higher Education) ModernThink initiated a research project to better understand any relationship between workplace quality and the institutional capacity to be innovative. After reviewing the academic and practitioner research, we identified 12 statements on the survey that could be connected to existing research on the organizational dynamics necessary to enable and support the creativity of its members and thereby influence the institutional capacity to be innovative. We then conducted a series of linear regression and factor analyses and ultimately identified six statements that were highly correlated. Today, we report those six statements in the Innovation Index.

The construct of “employee engagement” is an evolution of the construct of “job satisfaction.” While the term is commonly used, unlike other metrics such as the Generally
Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), there is not one definitive definition of employee engagement.

While there is not one universally agreed upon definition of employee engagement, there is significant overlap in the research on the key drivers of employee engagement. The most common “key drivers” of employee engagement including the experience and support of one’s immediate supervisor; job fit; autonomy; support for professional development; sense of belonging; sense of being appreciated and valued; connection to mission; the belief one is engaged in meaningful work can all be found in the dimensions of the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey©. The Engagement Index is a composite of items that are most cited as key drivers.

The standard ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© is also unique in that it maps its statements to accreditation criteria for each of the major regional accrediting bodies
Though this might not be the primary focus of this project, many institutions find the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© to be an invaluable resource to provide the
required concrete data and external measures on key metrics for accreditation reviews. Additionally, ModernThink has developed a comprehensive “bank” of survey items, benefits, and

Survey themes include:
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Confidence in Senior Leadership
  • Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging
  • Faculty & Staff Well-being
  • Faculty Experience (Faculty and Adjuncts Only)
  • Job Satisfaction & Support
  • Mission & Pride
  • Performance Management
  • Professional Development
  • Supervisor/Department Chair Effectiveness
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Exit Survey

Exit surveys are an important tool in your employee engagement tool kit. ModernThink’s research shows that highly engaged faculty and staff stay with organizations and are more productive. But when employees leave, it’s important to find out why and ensure their feedback is considered when making strategic improvements.

Employees leave institutions for a number of reasons, and all should be treated with dignity and respect. Like your alumni, former employees are ambassadors of your institutional brand. A cordial separation process and a well-crafted exit survey speak volumes about your HR practices.

The unique feature of the ModernThink Exit Survey is the ability to compare exit survey results with results from the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey©, the nationally
normed and recognized instrument behind the Great Colleges to Work For© program. This provides an invaluable gap analysis between those who leave and those who stay and can help you focus resources most appropriately when working to attract and retain top talent.

The ModernThink Exit Survey©, specifically designed for Higher Education survey audiences, is based on the same methodology behind the ModernThink Higher Education Insight
Survey©. We focus on ten (10) core dimensions that reflect key facets of the employee experience including leadership, managerial and organizational competencies.

Survey themes include:
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Confidence in Senior Leadership
  • Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging
  • Faculty & Staff Well-being
  • Faculty Experience (Faculty and Adjuncts Only)
  • Job Satisfaction & Support
  • Mission & Pride
  • Performance Management
  • Professional Development
  • Supervisor/Department Chair Effectiveness

ModernThink creates a customized online administrative portal, in which your staff will enter the e-mail addresses of employees separating from your institution in addition to other
information. The interface is simple and fast. We work closely with your team to decide what information to capture for each employee.

Our system sends a series of four exit survey invitations to each email address over the course of about two months, in accordance with a schedule determined by the project team. From the date the first email is sent, survey recipients have 12 months to access the survey and submit responses before the survey is closed to them. This timeframe can also be customized to meet your institution’s needs. Once the survey recipient responds, no further surveys are sent.

Through the administrative portal, an institution has access to the ModernThink Report Gateway. The response data will be updated in real time as survey recipients complete and submit their surveys. The ModernThink Higher Education Exit Survey© allows an institution to benchmark against its own responses to the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey® completed as part of the Great Colleges to Work For® program. Thirty-eight (38) of the statements within the ModernThink Higher Education Exit Survey© map
directly to statements from the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey. The benchmark integration in the gateway provides an excellent opportunity to conduct a gap analysis, compare specific statements, review data by individual demographic and gain better understanding of the difference between those leaving the institution and those staying.

It’s hard to review your data and make meaningful decisions if those sending exit surveys within the institution are not strategically aligned. Utilizing the ModernThink Higher Education Exit Survey© means that even if the task of sending an exit survey is not centralized, everyone on campus can use the same tool and speak the same language when reviewing results.

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Student Insight Survey

Institutions distinguish themselves in the marketplace and ultimately demonstrate value to students, parents and accreditation bodies through their student experiences and outcomes. ModernThink has a variety of student survey and assessment tools that your institution can customize to meet its unique needs.

The ModernThink Higher Education Student Insight Survey© is designed to complement the ModernThink Higher Education Insight Survey© for faculty and staff and create a
360-degree view of a campus culture. Our student survey results are used to strengthen and improve relationships on campus, build a connection to the university’s mission and goals, surface risk management issues, highlight what about your institution’s culture gives students a sense of belonging, and in doing so, enhance students’ likelihood of academic success.
Staff interaction is, in most cases, the first experience students have on campus, so gathering student perceptions of staff, as well as faculty, is important.

The ModernThink Higher Education Student Insight Survey© mirror the themes of the faculty and staff engagement survey and is often deployed alongside the faculty and staff
engagement survey. Upon the completion of the surveys, reports display side-by-side comparisons of both results.

Survey themes include:
  • Academic Support & Faculty Innovation
  • Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging
  • Campus Environment
  • Community & Pride
  • Leadership & Administration
  • Student Well-being
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Leadership Transition Survey

The most effective new campus leaders hit the ground running by truly understanding their inherited culture. By doing an initial baseline survey, leaders are much better prepared to set meaningful goals, prioritize scarce resources, influence outcomes and measure progress over time.

As a function of the work and research that ModernThink conducts, we can be particularly helpful with presidential transitions by supporting incoming leadership with some form of organizational assessment or environmental scan. It can be a very intentional component of a new leader’s first ninety days and a proactive means to fast-track the learning curve in a new environment.

“My presidency began during the pandemic when employees were still working remotely. The ModernThink survey results were one of the primary artifacts I used to gain insight into the culture of the college and to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the colleges’ greatest strengths and opportunities.”
– Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon, President, Virginia Peninsula Community College

A Transition Survey…
  • Assists with new leaders successful onboarding and orientation.
  • Provides a baseline assessment to inform a new leader’s immediate decisions and strategies.
  • Equips leaders with a valuable communication tool and lays the groundwork for initial conversations.
  • Assists Aids in uncovering any immediate risk management areas.
  • Demonstrates a new leader’s ownership of the stewardship of the culture.

By having a third-party provider assist in the listening tour and/or survey process, you can ensure the confidentiality and anonymity of all responses. We can support the analysis of the survey data so you have clear recommendations that will fast-track your understanding of the current climate and facilitate your ability to make your new university a better place to work and learn.

We realize that the last thing you want to worry about in your transition is how your survey will be administered. ModernThink will handle the heavy lifting for a new leader and will work directly with staff on either end of your transition team to ensure a smooth survey project. It is our belief that this survey should be organized and conducted by the President’s Office. Other departments (e.g., institutional research, human resources) can help operationalize this process but it must be seen as a top priority for you as president. We will help in advising you on an approach to set you and the process up for success. ModernThink is an important partner in this process in that we can ensure the anonymity of the respondents for you to receive clear, honest and straightforward information to support a successful transition.

“One of the most important elements in a presidential transition is organizational culture. Culture drives daily behavior, organizational thinking and decision making. A new president must understand the elements of the campus culture, both to leverage it and, when necessary, seek to change it.”
Presidential Transitions: It’s Not Just the Position, It’s the Transition by Sanaghan, Goldstein and Gaval

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Systems & Consortia

A system-wide employee engagement survey aims to gain clearer measurements for success that will assist with recruitment, retention, and development of the most talented and diverse workforce possible — both as a system and on each campus. We also can assess system and district leadership on their own engagement so that the results are comprehensive.

For regents, boards, and system presidents the survey offers a powerful metric to assess a new or existing president’s stewardship of their institution’s culture, as well as accountability for improvement initiatives and human capital measures like turnover, onboarding and shared governance.

A group or system of institutions administering the same customized survey questions and distribution method qualifies for a discounted rate on the survey project. It could also work with our sales consultants to see how participation in the Great Colleges to Work for program could help save money.

An example of this approach is ModernThink’s partnership with the University of North Carolina system. The UNC System and its constituent institutions engaged ModernThink to help develop and administer its Employee Engagement Survey three times – February 2018, February 2020 and March 2022. The survey asked employees for feedback about topics relating to communications, collaboration, supervision and benefits, among other items. Through this system-wide survey administration, ModernThink was able to provide campus-to-campus benchmarking, aggregated data across all UNC campuses, and longitudinal data at the campus and system levels. This project supported both campus- and system-level strategic plans.

Data drives decisions at every level in higher education. Our surveys provide not only individual institution leaders with critical insights, but also system and district leaders who want to assess differences in faculty and staff engagement across institutions.

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