5 educational benefits of college survey centers

Surveys from college and university polling centers appear in the press all of the time, but you may not think about how these polling centers can benefit the broader campus, writes Mileah Kromer for Inside Higher Ed.

Kromer is an associate professor of political science and the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College in Maryland.

Kromer's polling center and around 60 others are members of the Association of Academic Survey Research Organizations. Polling centers can be housed at a number of different types of institutions, from small liberal arts colleges to large flagship institutions. They generally receive their funding through contract work or from the institution's endowment or operating budget, Kromer reports.

Despite their ubiquity, many on campus may be unaware of what goes on behind the scenes at these academic research centers or how they can help students. Kromer shares five ways that polling centers can work with the broader campus.

Benefit #1: Experiential learning opportunities

Students are able to take advantage of polling centers by assisting with the research they conduct, Kromer writes. For example, they can help conduct phone interviews, develop questionnaires, track data collection, and analyze data.

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Benefit #2: Exposure to an interdisciplinary approach

Polling centers have unique opportunities to combine interdisciplinary methods to create new methodologies, Kromer writes. For example, Kromer shares that the survey center at the University of Illinois at Chicago trained its interviewers to collect both health data (such as blood pressure) and responses to survey questions. Combining multiple research methods helps students learn to take an interdisciplinary approach to solving problems and can help them in their careers, Kromer writes.

Benefit #3: Engagement with local communities

Survey centers can also serve as a bridge between the campus and the community, Kromer writes. For example, participating students get an opportunity to learn more about diverse groups of people with economic backgrounds different than their own, she writes.

For example, the Survey Lab at the University of Chicago has worked on a taxonomy of assets located on the south side of Chicago. The project involved mapping each asset—which got students out into the community—and distributing maps to patients showing them where to access resources related to their medical conditions.

In another example, Kromer's survey center at Goucher worked with the Maryland government to ask residents about their favorite outdoor activities, which helped the parks department plan future investments. In honor of their contribution, the center received an award from the governor.

Benefit #4: The gift of a transferable skill set

Students learn several marketable skills while working with polling centers, Kromer argues. It's easy to guess that they build skills in applied statistics, programming, and project management. But you may not realize that students at the polling centers practice soft skills as well.

For example, when students are interviewing people from diverse backgrounds, they practice communication skills. When students explain their findings in writing and verbally, they practice public relations, public speaking, and sometimes social media skills.

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Benefit #5: A better campus experience

Finally, students love that they can help make their institution better, Kromer writes. They can help create and administer campus climate surveys or alumni surveys that help colleges understand areas for improvement within the student experience (Kromer, Inside Higher Ed, 8/23). 


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