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This content was published: January 16, 2019. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

Unlocking the Priorities Survey for Online Learners

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A computer screen with the word feedback on itOnline Learning worked with Institutional Effectiveness in the spring of 2017 to conduct the Ruffalo Noel Levitz Priorities Survey for Online Learners (PSOL). The PSOL is similar to the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory, which the college has used several times in the past. The PSOL is focused on online learners and asks students for responses about how important something is to them and how satisfied they are with it at PCC.

As an example, students may be asked how important it is to them for the college they attend to have a good reputation, but they also indicate how satisfied they are with PCC’s reputation. The difference between the two scores effectively gives us an understanding of how much of a gap there is between what the students expect and what they experience.

The survey covers institutional perceptions, academic services, instructional services, enrollment services, and student services.  And, our results show us how well we perform compared to other two-year online programs.

What’s next?

Over the coming months leading up to the 2019 Online Faculty Summit we will be exploring many different facets of the Priorities Survey results and what they mean in real terms for our online student experience.  We will be using the results to call out specific topics for discussion about student needs and perceptions and where we can improve.

The purpose of this post is to make the PSOL results available and to see what areas generate the most interest among faculty. I’ll go over some things that jump out to me and see if it piques anyone else’s interest.


Demographic overview

I also wanted to do a brief demographic overview from the survey to help highlight the importance of the results. We worked with Institutional Effectiveness to validate the survey and ensure the results were meaningful. To start with, I wanted to compare the demographics of the respondents to the larger online student population.

Demographic Online Population Response Group
Male 35.4% 21.6%
Female 62.4% 71.4%
Unknown/No Response 2% 7%
African American 4.2% 4.3%
American Indian/Alaskan Native 0.77% 1.4%
Asian or Pacific Islander/Hawaiian 6.95% 8.6%
Caucasian 65.5% 62.9%
Hispanic 9.8% 8.3%
Multi-racial/Other race 6.8% 4.9%
Unknown/Prefer not to answer 6% 9.5%

While the responses are from a convenience sample of online students who chose to respond, we can feel confident that the respondents are a fairly accurately representation of the online student population (in spring of 2017).

Employment status

One of the most fascinating things I learned from the results are that 75% of the respondents are employed (54% full time, 21% part time). This is really important for understanding why our students are taking online classes. And it’s really important to understand when we make decisions about supporting these students (campus service hours, on-campus requirements, etc.) But I’ll save that for another post.

Here are a couple more items worth noting:

  • 34% have children
  • 67% are pursuing an associate degree at PCC
  • 43% are in their second year (class level)
  • 57% are in the 25-44 year old range.
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Image credit: sabirothomas from flickr. CC-BY


Most of the areas that turned out to be strengths (as identified as both high importance and high satisfaction) turned out to be structural part of business processes. Those areas include:

  • Registration for online courses is convenient.
  • Expectations for course performance are clearly outlined at the beginning of the term.
  • Online learning tools (e.g. discussion boards, quizzes, assignments, gradebook) are easy to use.
  • Assessment and evaluation procedures are clear and reasonable.
  • Billing and payment procedures are convenient.

One of the benefits of the survey is that we can learn where we aren’t meeting student expectations. These are the areas that were identified as challenges based on students identifying them as high importance and low satisfaction. I’m just going to focus on the course related (instead of financial aid info).

  • The quality of instruction is excellent.*
  • There are sufficient offerings within my program of study
  • In my online courses, I am given high quality timely feedback to help gauge my learning progress.*
  • Faculty provide timely feedback about student progress
  • There is consistency in the quality of instruction from one online course to another.*

While the statements seem like they are positive, the results indicate that students felt these were important but not satisfied with these areas. You’ve undoubtedly noticed how often we try to promote tools for providing students feedback. And much of that comes from what we learned from surveys like this. It’s also worth noting that several of these (marked with an asterisk) also showed up as challenges on the campus-focused SSI results as well.

About Andy Freed

I'm the Director of Learning Technology & Innovation (LTI!), where I oversee our infrastructure, technical support, and online student services teams. I've been with the College since 2001 and have worked in several positions, from tech... more »

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Sorry, but the comments have been closed. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Max 3 years ago

Thanks Andy.

This information is interesting and valuable.

x by bryan 3 years ago

Nothing here in this survey departs from what students say to me about their on-line experience.

x by Joe Corrado 3 years ago

Andy, thanks for your intro to the PSOL of spring 2017. It appears that there were a total of 556 respondents to this survey. Is this the “convenience sample” you refer to? Do you know the percentage size of this sample compared to our total online enrollment in spring 2017?

x by Andy 3 years ago

Hi Joe, we had a 14% response rate and it was sent to 4019 students.