Graduate Student Experience in the Research University

In 2014, the SERU Consortium developed a SERU Graduate Student Survey (gradSERU) reflecting the importance of understanding and seeking improvements in graduate education in an era of increased global competition for talent. The primary purpose of gradSERU is to collaborate in collecting survey data on the background, experiences, and outcomes of graduate and professional students attending top-tier research-intensive universities in the US, Europe, and throughout the world.

In 2017, for the first time, the University of Pittsburgh administered the gradSERU survey to all graduate and professional students at Pitt. Over a 13-week period, 40% of Pitt graduate and professional students completed the survey. Michigan State University (39% response rate), the University of Delaware (30% response rate), the University of Minnesota (28% response rate), and the University of Toronto (21% response rate) also participated in the 2017 administration.

More detailed results of the survey were shared with deans and program/department chairs to identify areas for improvement. Pitt graduate and professional students will be surveyed again in the spring of 2019 to compare against the 2017 baseline responses.


SERU and GradSERU Mission

Research-intensive universities share common goals and challenges. In the constant effort to improve institutional quality, much attention has been focused on faculty and their contribution to the three main purposes of these universities: 1) teaching and learning, 2) research and knowledge production, and 3) public service and economic engagement with the societies that give them life and purpose. The SERU Consortium attempts to focus on the student side of this tripartite mission.

The SERU Consortium focuses on the undergraduate and graduate student experience at top-tier research-intensive universities via SERU Surveys of students that are online and census, other sources of institutional data, analysis, sharing of best practices, and collaborating on policy-relevant research and reports. The goal is to promote and enhance evidence-based management and provide a path for institutional self-improvement.

This collaborative approach that includes sharing of data provides our member institutions with the following:

  • UNDERSTANDING WHO OUR STUDENTS ARE: SERU is a more full understanding of our student populations–their familial, academic, cultural, ethnic background as well as their self-identity, and career and other goals.
  • DISAGGREGATING THE STUDENT EXPERIENCE: There is no one student experience, but many within large research universities. Student behaviors, expectations, and satisfaction levels are affected by the academic and administrative practices of the research university and, conversely, how their behaviors and interests influence the academic milieu. The SERU Surveys are designed to provide sufficient data that allows for analysis at the academic discipline and program level and among various sub-populations.
  • TRANSLATING WHAT WE KNOW INTO POLICY: The Consortium is analyzing and using data that helps identify strengths and weaknesses of academic programs and other components of the student experience that are integrated into policymaking.