Special Reports

How the Survey Was Conducted

July 17, 2017

This year The Chronicle’s Great Colleges to Work For survey is based on responses from over 45,000 people at 232 institutions: 155 four-year colleges (89 private and 66 public), and 77 two-year colleges. All accredited institutions in the United States with an enrollment of at least 500 were invited to participate, at no cost.

Of the 2017 respondents, 7,200 were administrators, over 15,700 were faculty members, almost 13,000 were exempt staff members, almost 2,000 were adjunct faculty members, and 7,000 were nonexempt employees in lower-paid job categories. The survey was sent to about 110,000 employees, with an overall response rate of 41 percent.

The survey was administered by ModernThink LLC, a human-resources-consulting firm based in Wilmington, Del. It is based on a survey that has been used in 55 "Best Places to Work" programs and more than 4,000 organizations. A panel of higher-education experts helped to customize it for issues unique to colleges.

Each institution was asked to submit a list of full-time employees randomly selected across four job categories: administration, the faculty, exempt professional staff, and nonexempt staff. Adjunct faculty members were included for two-year colleges only. The sample size, as large as 600, was based on the number of employees in those categories. Institutions with fewer than 500 people in the designated categories were invited to survey the entire employee population.

The survey had two components: a questionnaire about institutional characteristics and a faculty/staff questionnaire about individuals’ evaluations of their institutions. It also included an analysis of demographic data and workplace policies, including benefits, at each participating college. The questionnaires were administered online this past spring.

In the faculty/staff questionnaire, people responded to 60 statements using a five-point scale, ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The statements were categorized into various dimensions and from those the Great Colleges recognition categories were determined, such as "collaborative governance." A list of the 12 categories and examples of the survey statements that form them is below.

To determine the colleges to be recognized in each category, we divided the applicant pool into two classifications: four-year institutions and two-year institutions. Within each, we created three groups, based on total undergraduate and graduate enrollment: small (500 to 2,999 students), medium (3,000 to 9,999), and large (more than 10,000).

Recognition in each Great Colleges category, except for diversity, was given to the 10 highest-scoring institutions in each size grouping for four-year colleges, and the four highest-scoring institutions in each size grouping for two-year colleges. In the diversity category, three four-year and three two-year colleges were recognized.

Honor Roll status for four-year colleges was awarded to the 10 institutions in each size grouping that were cited the most often across all of the recognition categories. For two-year colleges, Honor Roll status was awarded to the four institutions that were cited most often in each size category.

Collaborative Governance

Faculty members play significant roles in decisions on academic programs. Employees agree with statements like "Faculty, administration, and staff are meaningfully involved in institutional planning."

Compensation & Benefits

Pay is fair, and benefits are satisfactory. Sample statement: "This institution’s benefits meet my needs."

Confidence in Senior Leadership

Leaders have the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary for the success of the college. Sample statement: "Senior leadership provides a clear direction for this institution’s future."


The college makes a concerted effort to create a welcoming and fair environment for all employees. Sample statement: "This institution has clear and effective procedures for dealing with discrimination."

Facilities, Workspace, & Security

Facilities meet employees’ needs, and the campus looks good. Sample statement: "The institution takes reasonable steps to provide a safe and secure environment for the campus."

Job Satisfaction

There is an overall sense that the job is meaningful to the employee and to the college. Sample statement: "All things considered, this is a great place to work."

Professional/Career-Development Programs

Employees get chances to develop skills and understand requirements for career advancement. Sample statement: "Our orientation program prepares new faculty, administration, and staff to be effective."

Respect & Appreciation

Employees are regularly recognized for their contributions. Sample statement: "Our recognition-and-awards programs are meaningful to me."

Supervisor or Department-Chair Relationship

Supervisors or chairs solicit ideas and make expectations clear. Sample statement: "I believe what I am told by my supervisor/department chair."

Teaching Environment

Faculty members say the institution recognizes innovative and high-quality teaching. Sample statement: "Teaching is appropriately recognized in the evaluation-and-promotion process." (Faculty only.)

Tenure Clarity & Process

Requirements for tenure are clear. Sample statement: "Promotions in my department are based on a person’s ability." (Faculty at four-year institutions only.)

Work/Life Balance

Policies give employees flexibility to manage their lives on the job and at home. Sample statement: "My supervisor/department chair supports my efforts to balance my work and personal life."