February 17, 2012
Writer: Andrew Henley
SRC representatives participate in almost 30 administrative councils on campus. In order to effectively represent the students of BYU-Idaho in those councils, the SRC needs to know how students feel about key issues that the university’s administration is considering.
The Student Voice is a program that allows the SRC to ask students their opinions and then to use that information to have a greater influence in the decision-making process at BYU-Idaho.
Every semester the SRC sends out an email to all enrolled students (those who are taking at least one credit) inviting them to join the Student Voice. Members agree to respond to brief email surveys every week.
Each semester over 3,000 students agree to take the surveys, and each survey receives between 1,300 to 2,500 responses. Since the Student Voice group represents a broad statistical cross-section of campus, the Student Representative Council can generally conclude that the results of the surveys represent the overall opinion of the BYU-Idaho student body on a particular issue.
With thousands of survey responses flooding in each week, the Student Representative Council needs help in turning those results into meaningful data that can be used in the university's decion-making process. Each week, the SRC invites a "small army" of volunteers to meet for two hours in a campus computer lab. In a process not unlike family history indexing, Student Voice Volunteers use an online database program to share the work of sorting, summarizing, and discussing students' responses to open-ended survey questions.
As members of the Student Representative Council lead the work in these sessions, the volunteers themselves also become a sort of focus group giving feedback on the importance of specific issues, expressing different viewpoints, and helping to come up with practical solutions to solve the biggest problems affecting students.
The Power of Data
Before the Student Voice was created, student representatives had no reliable way of finding out how the student body felt on any particular issue. Asking their roommates, inserting themselves into lunch conversations at the crossroads, handing out paper surveys, and using pizza to lure students into focus groups were the only ways that the SRC had of measuring student opinion and gathering data on the issues that students were facing. While some of those methods yielded results, it was difficult to influence major university decisions with such unreliable data.
By giving student representatives the ability to directly ask students their opinions, concerns, and suggestions on the most important issues facing BYU-Idaho, the Student Voice transformed the SRC and its role in the process of student representation. While student representatives have long been welcome in the governing councils of the university, the SRC has taken on a new role as it can now provide great amounts of data to the key decision makers right when they need it.
The Student Voice also allows the SRC to take a more active role in representing students. As student representatives identify widespread student concerns, they can now use statistics from the Student Voice to show the degree to which certain problems are affecting students. Even more, they can propose solutions to those problems that come directly from the students that are most deeply affected by them.