Insights from the 1st Stanford Community Survey

Featuring student opinions on university institutions, their student experience, national politics and more

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The Daily recently introduced the Stanford Community Survey (previously known as Stanford Polls), a joint initiative with the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) to regularly survey Stanford students. From April 8-24, we staged our first survey: asking students about their opinions on various Stanford institutions, their Stanford experience, national politics and more.

836 students responded to the 1st Stanford Community Survey. About 60% of the respondents were undergrads, about evenly split between the four years. PhDs represented about 20% of respondents, and non-PhD graduate students made up about 15% of respondents. The remaining 5% were postdoctoral students, coterms, “super seniors” or self-described as “other.”

Stanford approval ratings

In the survey, students were asked how they approved of the Stanford administration, including specific members of it, and the ASSU. Since policies responding to COVID-19 have been a major focus of the Stanford administration and the ASSU, we also asked students how they felt about these bodies’ specific responses to the pandemic.

Of the more than 830 students surveyed, around 55% of students either approved or strongly approved of both the Stanford administration and the ASSU. While nearly 40% of students disapprove of the administration, the ASSU has only a 16% disapproval rating. When asked about Stanford’s COVID-19 response, students approved at about the same rate they approved and disapproved of the administration in general. On the other hand, the ASSU’s COVID-19 response efforts actually garnered much more enthusiastic approval from students when compared to the ASSU’s general approval rating, rising from a 55% approval to nearly 75%, with about 30% strongly approving.

Compared to other administration officials and the Stanford administration in general, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne sits at a slightly higher approval rating. However, administration officials that more closely interact with students in announcing and implementing somewhat controversial COVID-19-related academic policies see decently lower approval ratings. They also see similar disapproval ratings as compared to the administration in general, though more students have no opinion. Provost Persis Drell and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole both hold a 45% approval rating, with 38% and 27% students disapproving respectively.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, the pandemic’s disruption to daily life stretches into May. Less than 20% of student respondents are still on campus, and nearly 75% stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected their academic progress. Despite their academic struggles, students most approved of their closest academic department than all of the other institutions, policies and officials surveyed by The Daily.

Student opinions

Spring quarter grading

In mid-March, the Stanford Faculty Senate held a vote on which grading policy should be implemented for the 2019-20 spring term. The options were Universal Satisfactory/No Credit, Credit/No Credit with the option of standard letter grading and A/A-/No Credit. The final option was proposed by the ASSU.

Students’ first choice regarding spring quarter grading was equally split between all options proposed by the Faculty Senate. When one factors in second and last choices, students ranked Universal S/NC 1.93 out of 3 on average, with C/NC with optional grading and A/A-/NC both at average ranks of around 2.05. 

The spring quarter grading preference of undergrads is much clearer, with a plurality of undergrads ranking A/A-/NC as their first choice. The A/A-/NC grading scheme had the best average rank at around 1.66. Undergrads least preferred the current spring quarter grading policy, Universal S/NC, with an average ranks of 2.23.

Agree/Disagree statements

The survey also presented students with a series of statements about Stanford and their experience.

When asked about whether or not they would donate when they are older, students were pretty evenly split. Though willingness to donate does not change with students’ financial aid status, when looking at how students’ desire to donate changes across classes, undergraduates who’ve spent more time at Stanford are less likely to say they will donate. Ph.D.s are also less likely to donate when they’re older.

Based on these results, Stanford does not seem to be doing the best job of fostering an atmosphere of institutional enthusiasm among its undergraduate students. 

That over half of seniors surveyed said they will not even consider donating to their alma mater not only suggests underlying student concerns that have gone unaddressed, but also points to a missed opportunity for Stanford to funnel its students’ success into the next generation, as cultivating donations from its students is the backbone of how Stanford makes money. 

Among all the statements with which we asked students to agree or disagree, students most vehemently responded to Stanford’s handling of Chanel Miller’s plaque. In reaction to the statement “Stanford has appropriately handled the issue of Chanel Miller’s plaque,” two thirds disagreed, 40% of which disagreed strongly. When posed with a statement about sexual assault being a big issue on campus, only 10% disagreed, though 25% responded neutrally to the statement.

Undergraduates were also asked if they thought “the Stanford undergraduate experience was catered for the wealthier class.” The responses are especially salient given how COVID-19 has exacerbated academic and health disparities across socioeconomic statuses.

About 44% of the Stanford students surveyed receive no financial aid. Half of these students agreed with the above statement, while more than 60% of those who received a full ride to Stanford agreed, of which nearly half agreed strongly. When factoring in those who receive levels of financial aid that are less than a full ride, this difference appears to be a trend: Those who receive more financial aid tend to agree more that Stanford caters to the upper class. 

National politics

Unaffiliated with the ASSU, The Daily also asked students about their views on current national politics. A majority of Stanford students identify as liberal or very liberal, while 7% of students self-describe instead as socialist. Only 5% identify as conservative or very conservative. These leanings are manifested in the severe disapproval students harbor towards U.S. President Donald Trump. Nearly 90% have an unfavorable view of him; 70% view the president very unfavorably.

Despite Sen. Bernie Sanders’ dropping out one week prior to the survey’s release, nearly 50% of students supported Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee as opposed to about 35% who preferred Joe Biden, the current presumptive Democratic nominee. When it comes to the general election in November, nearly 90% of voting-eligible students plan to vote in 2020.

As The Daily continues to parse through the results of this survey, @94305 will be releasing more coverage of this survey in the near future. In the meantime, The Daily plans on conducting more Stanford Community Surveys. If you have any suggestions for questions or themes that should be addressed in future surveys, please contact The Daily’s Data Team at data ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

Note: Two days into the survey, one of the answer options for the question asking about students’ year changed from “Graduate Student” to “Non-PhD Graduate Student” to make the distinction from the “PhD Student” option clear.

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Dylan is a senior majoring in Symbolic Systems-AI and minoring in Economics. He very much enjoys playing guitar, listening to music, and reading FiveThirtyEight. As a Senior Data Team Writer for The Stanford Daily, Dylan hopes to offer his data-driven approach to journalism as a vessel for others to navigate the vast, stormy seas of society. He will also usually do so in an overly dramatic metaphor.