Graduate Student Climate Survey 2022
Climate Survey Overview
The Virginia Tech Graduate School is committed to creating and supporting a climate that fosters inclusion and diversity, and where all students can be productive and engaged members of our campus communities. To understand our progress toward this goal, we seek feedback directly from students on their perceptions of campus and departmental climate. The graduate school has conducted many climate surveys over the years, but in 2016 the survey underwent significant revisions to decrease the number of questions and to include students at all campuses. The 2022 Graduate School Climate Survey is the third iteration of the revised survey. This survey attempts to gather a holistic view of the climate throughout graduate education by covering topic areas such as campus climate, department climate, support, advising, mentorship, and diversity and inclusion.
The survey was administered to all graduate students from March 15 until April 5, 2022. The survey achieved an overall response rate of 27%. Response rate and representativeness of the data can be reviewed at the following visualization. This report summarizes the key findings from each area of the survey. Additional disaggregated data are available through an interactive tool on the graduate school’s Data and Reports page. These data show results for each Likert scale question on the survey and allow for filtering to a specific population of interest and splitting the data out based on certain student characteristics. Additionally, this visualization allows for comparison of results in the survey data from 2016, 2019, and 2022. This data can be filtered by academic area of interest and various student characteristics. Overall findings from this survey show positive perceptions of campus climate however, there are also areas that are not trending in the right direction.
Summary of Results
The campus climate section of the survey asked students to reflect on the overall climate on campus, along with its diversity, friendliness, and inclusiveness. Students had the lowest level of agreement with the statement: My campus is diverse (64% strongly agree or agree) which is the same percentage as in 2019. The level of agreement decreased from 2019 to 2022 among each of the other three questions in this segment:
- My campus is friendly (88% to 86%)
- My campus is inclusive (74% to 71%)
- The overall climate on my campus is good (85% to 81%)
While these levels of agreement are generally high, a decrease over time is not a trend we would like to see.
Finally, this section asked students about the frequency of negative experiences. A very low percentage of students reported hearing others make disparaging or discriminating remarks about groups of people (7%), or experiencing exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct themselves (6%) extremely or very often. However, these rates vary when split out by student demographic characteristics such as underrepresented minorities (URM), gender, citizenship, or degree level.
Students had a more favorable view of the climate within their academic departments. The first set of department climate questions paralleled the questions regarding campus climate. Similar to the campus climate section, the question with the lowest level of agreement was: My department is diverse (79%); however, this was an increase of 5 percentage-points from 2019. Each of the remaining five questions related to department climate in this section (inclusive, supportive, fair, friendly, overall climate) had a level of agreement (agree or strongly agree) over 90% and saw an increase since 2019.
The second set of questions related to department climate attempted to dig deeper into the student experience within the department by asking questions about social and professional integration, identity, isolation, collaboration, collegiality, discrimination, and support of personal commitments.
- The highest levels of agreement were with the questions:
- My department encourages a collegial environment among students (93%) and
- My department works to provide a discrimination free environment (91%).
- The lowest levels of agreement were with the questions:
- I am as socially and professional integrated into my department/program as I would like to be (75%) and
- My department supports my personal commitments outside of graduation school (75%).
Finally, students were asked whether they feel isolated in their department and 38% of students strongly or somewhat agreed with that statement, which was an increase of 5 percentage points from 2019. This is a question where a higher level of agreement is not the desired outcome. We hope students have a low feeling of isolation.
Students were asked about their perceptions of how effective the actions of various leadership groups are on campus with respect to promoting inclusion and diversity. Department leadership was seen as the most effective, with 81% of respondents choosing very or somewhat effective. Campus leadership (Deans, Vice Presidents, Vice Provosts) had an effectiveness rating of 70%, while university leadership (President, Provost, Board of Visitors) had the lowest rating, at 64%. Similar to the responses we saw to questions about campus and department climate, students reported a more favorable view of their departments than the university as a whole.
This survey contains 18 prompts across two questions related to various experiences between students and faculty advisors and their helpfulness related to particular tasks on the path to graduation. The role of an advisor is critical to shaping the graduate student experience, which is why this is one of the largest sections in the climate survey.
- Regarding the student’s relationship with their advisors, the highest levels of agreement came from the questions:
- I feel comfortable sharing my professional goals with my advisor (91%);
- My advisor responds in a timely manner (91%); and
- I get support from my advisor to pursue personal research interests or professional development (89%).
- The lowest levels of agreement came from the questions:
- My department has provided me opportunities to serve the department or university in various capacities outside of teaching or research (77%) and
- There are adequate opportunities for me to interact with faculty in addition to my advisor (84%).
Overall, 85% of students agreed they were satisfied with the quality of advising they received.
Regarding the types of activities and processes advisors may help graduate students with, students found their advisors to be most helpful with their dissertations or thesis projects, including topic selection and proposal development, each with a 91% rating. Students rated advisors lowest with advice about navigating the systems and culture of graduate education, consideration of non-academic career options, and preparation for general exams, each with an 80% helpfulness rating.
Student support is another area that can strongly influence the graduate student experience. There was a wide range in the levels of agreement among questions in this section.
- The areas of support with the highest levels of agreement were:
- I feel safe on my campus (or in virtual spaces) (92%);
- There are sufficient resources available to ensure my academic success (92%); and
- I know where to find support if I am having academic difficulties (84%).
- The areas of support with the lowest levels of agreement were:
- I feel Virginia Tech administrators care about me (65%) and
- I feel a strong sense of community at Virginia Tech (75%).
Regarding support provided by the Graduate School staff in Blacksburg, students had the most favorable level of agreement with the statement about graduate school staff being approachable and helpful with questions (90%). Lower levels of agreement were found related to graduate school activities and resources helping students feel connected to the graduate community (75%) and the Graduate School providing programs and services that are relevant to student interests and needs (75%).
This section of the survey focused on how students from a variety of backgrounds are supported on university campuses and whether students know, and are comfortable with, the resources available for reporting discriminatory behavior. For this group of questions, a “Don’t Know” option was available if the respondent did not feel able to perceive how a particular group was supported.
Students were asked about how supportive the university was of seven student identities: ethnic and racial minorities (66% very or moderately supportive); international students (74%); lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer (59%); persons with invisible disabilities—i.e., learning disabilities (51%); persons with visible disabilities (52%); transgender (48%); and veterans (53%).
Regarding discrimination or harassment, 79% of students agreed they were comfortable reporting an act they experienced and 77% agreed they knew they process for reporting such an act. Additionally, 84% of students were aware the Graduate School had an Office of the Ombudsperson and 92% agreed they appreciated having that resource in addition to formal reporting options. Overall, 89% of students said they felt their identity(ies) are honored and respected at Virginia Tech.
The culminating question of the climate survey asked students if given the choice, would they choose to enroll at Virginia Tech again based on their experience. Overall, nearly 85% of respondents said they would choose to enroll again. This is an increase of two percentage points from when this question was first asked in the 2016 survey. The highest level of agreement came from male students (86.5%), master’s degree students (87%), and international students (87%). The lowest levels of agreement came from: underrepresented minority (URM) students (77%), doctoral students (82.5%), and female students (82.6%).
The 2022 Graduate School Climate Survey was the fourth iteration of a climate survey conducted by the Virginia Tech Graduate School and has been conducted every three years since 2013. The survey covered topics such as campus and department climate, student support, advising, mentorship, and inclusion and diversity. The survey was modified significantly in 2016 to decrease the length from 98 prompts to 71 and to expand the survey to students attending all campuses, not just those attending classes in Blacksburg. In 2019, the graduate school participated in a university-wide initiative launching climate surveys for undergraduate students, faculty and staff in addition to the graduate school survey that was already in place. In response, a set of ten core questions were added that would allow for comparisons between those groups. No significant changes were made for the 2022 survey allowing for three cycles of data for comparison across most questions. The survey is conducted as a census with all graduate students invited to participate.
The 2022 Graduate Student Climate Survey was sent to 6,688 graduate students. Twenty-three e-mail addresses bounced bringing the total number of students reached to 6,665. Survey responses were collected through the Qualtrics survey software. On April 5, the survey was closed and response data were downloaded and saved on a secure server and e-mail addresses were removed from the dataset. When the survey closed, 1,795 students met the guidelines for inclusion in the final analysis resulting in a response rate of 27%. Partially completed responses were included.
In advance of the survey release, college deans and diversity officers were sent a communication informing them of the upcoming survey and asking for their help in encouraging graduate student participation. Students were informed ahead of the launch through the graduate school weekly bulletin. On March 15, 2022 the initial invitation to complete the web-survey was sent to the vt.edu e-mail address of all student enrolled with graduate student standing as of March 14th. Students were incentivized to participate through an optional raffle entry upon completion. Student information for the raffle was collected in a separate survey system to keep it separate from survey responses. Throughout the survey window, deans and graduate program directors were provided data on response rates and were encouraged to use their internal communication tools to encourage responses. Students were sent reminders to their vt.edu address on March 22 and April 5.
Response rates help measure the potential for nonresponse bias, but do not specifically identify bias. Comparing the characteristics of those students who completed the survey to the student population as a whole provides a narrative around who is represented in the survey. Table 1 compares some of the key student characteristics of those completing the survey and the overall graduate student population. Detailed response rates and comparisons can be viewed at the following interactive graphic: https://graduateschool.vt.edu/numbers/climate-survey-home/overview_2022/2022-survey-faqs/response-rate-2022.
Table 1 shows an overrepresentation of students on the Blacksburg campus with 76% of survey respondents selecting Blacksburg as their campus while only 67% of the overall student population was enrolled on the Blacksburg campus in spring 2022.
Students attending classes virtually or enrolled in an online program are underrepresented in the survey data. This could be because some students who were taking all virtual classes still identified with the Blacksburg campus.
Additionally, there is an overrepresentation of doctoral students in the survey data (54%) compared with the population (46%) and an underrepresentation of Masters, certificate, and non-degree seeking students.
Finally, there is an overrepresentation of female identifying students in the survey data (50%) compared to the population (41%) and underrepresentation of male identifying students. Representation among academic colleges international students, and race/ethnicity categories is comparable between survey respondents and the graduate student population.
The findings from this survey suggest graduate students at Virginia Tech have positive views of campus and department climate, positive interactions with their advisors, and necessary academic resources for success. However, there are multiple areas for improvement particularly in the areas of creating inclusive environments, a sense of community, supporting personal commitments outside of graduate school, and how leaders support graduate students. This report provided general results across the entire population, however the student experience varies across academic college and program and across specific demographic characteristics. To view the results from all survey questions and filter the options to highlight particular groups of students, go to: https://graduateschool.vt.edu/numbers/climate-survey-home/overview_2022/2022-survey-faqs/response-rate-2022
To address some of the main areas for improvement that were identified in both the likert scale questions and open response questions, multiple initiatives are already underway to improve the overall climate and create an environment where students feel supported. These initiatives center around creating positive student-faculty interactions in academic and research settings and financial support for graduate students.
The Associate Deans in the graduate are traveling to departments to discuss mentoring best practices. This involves using case study scenarios from real events to discuss how to approach certain situations. Starting in February, Dean Surprenant is hosting mentoring lunch discussions at various locations around the Blacksburg campus which can be accessed virtually for individuals outside of Blacksburg. These informal gatherings are aimed at creating and cultivating a computing of practice around mentoring. These conversations will include discussions about challenges, opportunities, experiences, and successes. Additionally, the graduate ombudsperson is available as a resource for conflict resolution. We are engaged in conversations with program leaders, graduate students, and staff to raise awareness of what academic bullying is, how it manifests itself, and why we need to disrupt academic bullying.
Financial support was the most frequently identified area where graduate students need more support from the university. This will make them feel more valued as graduate students but also reduce the added stressed of financial uncertainty in addition to academic stress. Building on work from the recommendations made by the Graduate Education Task Force, which found Virginia Tech’s stipends are not competitive with peer institutions, and the Resolution for Equitable and Cost-of-Living-Responsive Graduate Student Compensation , a Graduate Stipend Task Force was commissioned to draft a report and recommendations for providing assistantship stipends and other financial support sufficient to cover cost-of-living and educational expenses and that minimizes educational debt. This task force is currently in the process of finalizing its recommendations which will be presented to the Provost and Dean of the Graduate School.
Additionally, graduate school staff members are working directly with academic units to discuss their results as well as strategies for improvement.