The University of California has received approximately 17,000 responses from students participating in a survey that could potentially impact future undergraduate education and is the first general survey and largest web-based survey asking students for input.

Beginning in April, all eight University of California campuses launched a system-wide survey on the undergraduate experience known formally as “Student Experience in the Research University in the 21st Century”(SERU21). The survey was developed to provide information about student responses to situations in University courses, which class sizes students prefer, how much contact they have with faculty, and what kinds of conflicts students face when organizing their time and making priorities.

“Faculty have little knowledge of these kinds of matters,” said UCSB sociology professor Richard Flacks, the survey’s faculty principal investigator. “We will be able to compare how students engage academically in terms of their majors, year levels, occupational goals, and we will be able to see how various kinds of student perspectives are related to academic achievement.”

Those asked to participate are students who entered the UC system as freshmen in Fall 1998 and Fall 2001, as well as students who transferred in Fall 2000 and Fall 2001. SERU21 is a collaborative effort to understand undergraduate life between campuses and is funded by system-wide Student Affairs divisions, as well as the UC Office of the President.

The purpose of the survey is to develop new data that can assist policy development and improvement of the undergraduate experience. SERU21 could provide administration and faculty more information on what kind of students fully engage in campus life, Flacks said.

“The very first UCSB response form that I got was from a freshman woman. … It was about how they stuffed people in the dorms. It was so overcrowded that she literally couldn’t sit up in bed to study, she had to lie down to study,” SERU21 project assistant Paolo Gardinali said. “This might sound silly, but this is a real problem that the administration can act on.”

The survey is also intended to explain how different types of students utilize their opportunities at the University. Students who are more affluent are more likely to party while first-generation college attendees are more disciplined in organizing their time, Flacks said.

“They say party-oriented students are not academic,” he said. “We can get some information on how those domains are related, and how that is affected by income and wealth.”

SERU21 may also predict how enrollment rates effect the undergraduate learning experience.

“Students initially have to take courses with large numbers of people, and smaller numbers over time. How important to the student is this? Is it important that they have contact with faculty? Students differ in response, some prefer large classes and prefer anonymity and less accountability. Some want small classes so they can be active participants,” Flacks said. “If you are growing in enrollment, but not matching it in faculty and facilities, now can we begin to see the trends on student performance?”

UC President Richard Atkinson invited 60,000 UC students to participate in the survey and 20,000 are expected to participate, 2,000 of which are expected to be UCSB students. Atkinson invited the students to participate in an e-mail message, which explained the project. Those invited can access the survey online; students are identified by their name, birth date and perm number.

As an incentive for participating, students who complete the survey are entered into a drawing for $100 bookstore certificates, 10 at each campus. There is a grand prize of $2002 for a randomly drawn student in the UC system.

One of the topics the survey is trying to clear up is how marketing and advertising affect the quantity of responses to e-mail surveys, since campuses differ in how those methods influence students, Flacks said.

Next year, Flacks expects a more intensive survey with refined questions to have a higher response rate than this year.

Those involved in implementing SERU21 hope to find funding for the project next year, as well as follow-up with this year’s participants so they can get a more comprehensive view of the college experience.

“I was pleased that after presenting the idea of this research that the Office of the President was willing to fund this, and that they don’t have control over it,” Flacks said. “In the future we want funding from foundations to keep this process going.”

The survey is expected to end May 22, and the results will be out at the end of summer.

“I think it will help faculty-student relations because it will help faculty understand students better, and help students reflect on their experience at the University,” said SERU21 student assistant Elizabeth Ozar.

Students eligible to take the survey can access the survey online at .