Why Do You Need Campus Climate Surveys?

by | May 1, 2023 | Climate Surveys, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, Sexual Misconduct

Many universities and colleges conduct regular campus climate surveys. But some may wonder, what insights do they truly bring? Can they actually be used to make higher education institutions a better place?  

In our experience, when done well, campus climate surveys can be an effective way for institutions to better understand their campus environment; they explore inclusiveness, safety, and the experiences and attitudes of everyone on campus from students to faculty to staff. They can identify areas for improvement and then, when implemented regularly, track how the campus changes over time. 

Here we will dive into what they are, how we came to support them, and how to implement a high quality and successful campus climate survey.

Campus Climate Surveys: A Quick Explanation

In a nutshell, campus climate surveys are questionnaires that help schools learn more about the atmosphere on their campus. They look at how supportive, respectful, and successful the environment is for everyone, from students to faculty and staff.

When schools use these surveys to get a full picture of what’s going on at their campus, they can identify areas where they need to improve. One way is to implement appropriate policies and practices to address specific issues. By doing this, they’re able to create a more inclusive, welcoming atmosphere for everyone. 

Campus climate surveys are a critical tool for ensuring all community members feel safe, respected, and valued. 

A Brief History of Campus Climate Surveys

A compelling  case for studying campus climates was made in the 90s by Hurtado, Carter, and Kardia (1998). One of the first surveys conducted by an institution was by the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) in 2006. In the years that followed, hundreds of campuses have conducted climate studies, recognizing the value they bring. SoundRocket supported its first climate study with the University of Michigan in 2016, and has been active with U-M and dozens of other institutions ever since. 

Over the years, these surveys have evolved and expanded to address a wide range of issues, including sexual misconduct, discrimination, and accessibility. Many institutions have committed to climate studies on a regular basis, and have even integrated them into their strategic plans. In a growing number of states, institutions are even required by law to conduct them. Nowadays, campus climate surveys are considered a best practice for institutions committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What is a Campus Climate Survey?

A campus climate survey is a research-based assessment tool designed to collect information about the perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of community members at a college or university.

These surveys cover various aspects of campus life, ranging from:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender

The main goal of these surveys is to help schools learn what they need to improve, so they can identify the necessary changes and monitor the progress and effectiveness of these changes over time. With feedback from a diverse range of campus constituents, institutions can better understand their challenges, come up with solutions, and create a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone.

Types of Questions Typically Asked in a Campus Climate Survey

The main focus of campus climate surveys cover five main factors

  • Respect
  • Conflict
  • Diversity Engagement
  • Diversity Interest
  • Diversity Exposure

Today, campus climate surveys typically include a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions. The range of topics may include the following:

  1. How safe and supported people feel on campus
  2. Whether anyone has experienced discrimination or harassment due to their  race, gender, or sexual orientation
  3. How easy it is to access campus resources and facilities
  4. Whether school activities and organizations cater to a multicultural student body
  5. How happy people are with academic and professional opportunities
  6. How people from different backgrounds interact with each other
  7. What people think about the overall campus environment and how committed it is to diversity and inclusion
  8. If they were first generation university enrollees, or non-first generation

Download our 60+ Example Key Measures for Campus Climate Surveys.

The Benefits of Campus Climate Surveys

Campus climate surveys offer numerous advantages to educational institutions. Let’s explore the positive impact they have on campuses.

Creating a Safe and Inclusive Environment

One of the main perks of campus climate surveys is their ability to help institutions foster a safe and inclusive environment for everyone. This can lead to better support systems, increased awareness of diversity and inclusion initiatives, and an overall sense of belonging for all members of the campus community.

Identifying Areas for Improvement

Feedback from students, faculty, and staff, helps schools pinpoint specific areas where they need to focus to create a more welcoming atmosphere. Whether it’s addressing discrimination, enhancing accessibility, or creating more opportunities for diverse interactions, these surveys help schools identify the gaps and work towards bridging them. 

Promoting Transparency and Accountability

By conducting campus climate surveys, institutions demonstrate their commitment to creating a supportive and inclusive environment. The process promotes transparency by acknowledging areas that need improvement. It also holds schools accountable for implementing meaningful changes based on the survey results.

Encouraging Dialogue and Communication

Campus climate surveys can help spark conversations among community members about the issues that matter most to them. They create an opportunity for open dialogue, fostering a sense of shared responsibility in shaping the campus environment.

This increased communication can lead to greater understanding, empathy, and collaboration among students, faculty, and staff.

The Challenges of Campus Climate Surveys

While it’s a great solution to addressing important issues, it’s also not perfect. Understanding these hurdles will help institutions navigate the process more effectively and make the most of the insights gained.

Difficulty in Obtaining Honest and Accurate Responses

One of the challenges schools face is getting honest and accurate responses. Some participants may be hesitant to share their experiences or concerns due to fear of retaliation or negative consequences. Ensuring anonymity and confidentiality is essential to encourage genuine feedback and to make sure the survey results truly reflect the campus climate.

The Complexity of Interpreting Survey Data

Interpreting survey data can be complex, especially when it comes to understanding the nuances of people’s experiences and perceptions. It’s essential for schools to have a team of experts who can analyze the data, identify patterns and trends, and provide actionable recommendations.

The Need for Resources and Expertise to Design, Administer, and Analyze the Survey

Conducting a successful campus climate survey requires resources and expertise in various areas, such as survey design, administration, data analysis, and communication of results.

Schools may need to invest in training, hire external consultants, or collaborate with specialized organizations. This ensures the survey process is well-executed and yields valuable insights.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of campus climate surveys far outweigh the obstacles. By understanding and addressing the potential difficulties, schools can make the most of these surveys, ultimately leading to a more inclusive and supportive campus environment for everyone.

Best Practices for Conducting a Campus Climate Survey

Achieve a successful campus climate survey. By following these guidelines, you’ll be better equipped to gather meaningful insights and drive positive change on campus.

Ensuring Confidentiality and Anonymity

To encourage honest and open feedback, it’s essential to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of survey participants. Make sure to communicate clearly that their responses will not be linked to their identities and that the data will be reported in aggregate. Taking these steps helps build trust among the campus community and ensures more accurate survey results.

Providing Transparency Throughout the Process

Being transparent about the survey’s purpose, goals, and intended outcomes is crucial in gaining the support of students, faculty, and staff. Share information about the survey’s design, administration, and analysis, as well as how the results will be used to inform campus policies and initiatives. This open communication helps foster a sense of shared responsibility and ownership of the survey process.

Providing Clear Communication to Participants

Clear communication is key when it comes to informing participants about the survey. Provide detailed instructions on how to complete the survey, emphasize the importance of their participation, and explain the time frame for data collection. Make sure to inform participants about any follow-up actions that will be taken based on the survey results, reinforcing the survey’s significance and impact.

Utilizing a Reputable Survey Provider with Expertise in Campus Climate Surveys

Partnering with a reputable survey provider with experience in campus climate surveys can help ensure the survey’s success. These providers have the expertise to design, administer, and analyze the survey effectively, providing actionable insights that can drive meaningful change on campus.

Are There Climate Surveys on Your Campus?

Campus climate surveys are an indispensable tool for educational institutions seeking to create safe, inclusive, and welcoming environments for everyone. Conducting them ultimately benefits all community members.

By understanding the challenges and employing best practices, schools can effectively use these surveys to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses. Embracing campus climate surveys should be part of an institution’s ongoing efforts to improve the campus environment. 

The only way to take crucial steps toward fostering a truly inclusive and supportive community is to ask the people themselves.

Are you responsible for conducting a campus climate survey but feeling overwhelmed with the process of designing, administering, and reporting?

Don’t worry – we’re here to assist you. With our team’s extensive experience in surveying millions of students across 400 campuses, we offer both standardized and custom survey designs with high response rates.Schedule a consultation today to discuss your project and learn more about how we can help simplify the process for you.

About the Author


Understanding human behavior—individually and in groups—drives our curiosity, our purpose, and our science. We are experts in social science research. We see the study of humans as an ongoing negotiation between multiple stakeholders: scientists, research funders, academia, corporations, and study participants.