Student Experience in the Research University

The Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium began as a research project out of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE). The investigators sought to develop a survey tailored to the unique experience of students at research universities, specifically focusing on academic engagement; time allocation; academic and personal development; evaluation of academic majors; global skills and awareness; climate for diversity; and overall satisfaction. Originally called the University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES) and implemented across the University of California system, SERU administration was made available to other universities in 2008.

In 2009, the University of Pittsburgh joined the SERU Consortium and began administering the SERU survey on an annual basis. In 2017, survey administration was changed to every other year alternating with the gradSERU survey. The results of the SERU survey have been used to help formulate goals and areas for improvement related to student satisfaction and to assess progress toward these goals relative to peers.

The infographic below highlights some key findings of the survey when it was most recently administered in 2016. More detailed results of the survey were shared with deans and program/department chairs to identify areas for improvement.  


SERU result graphic


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.