Earlier this year, ACUI conducted a member needs assessment to ascertain what resources, events, and services best meet the needs of members and in what areas the Association can grow. The survey is also used to gather data for other Association priorities, such as volunteerism and educational offerings.
Professional, graduate, and undergraduate members received the assessment. Just under 7.0% (425 individuals) completed the survey. Of those who took the survey, 394 were professionals (7.0% response rate), 9 were graduate students (4.2% response rate), and 22 were undergraduate students (3.5% response rate).
Professional members who completed the demographic portion of the assessment primarily indicated they were mid-level managers (56.5%), followed by senior-level (32.7%) and entry-level (10.8%).
This was the first time ACUI conducted a full needs assessment since 2019. During the pandemic, surveys focused primarily on member needs during this critical time and did not assess the Association’s offerings on a more global level.
Understanding Professional Members
Aligning with the higher level of mid- and senior-level professionals completing the survey, the most common length of engagement with ACUI was 10–20 years (26.4%), followed by 5–10 years (20.8%) and more than 20 years (19.2%); more than 66% of respondents have been engaged with ACUI for at least five years. Of the 33% who have been engaged for less than five years, 12% are new to ACUI, reporting less than one year of engagement.
More than 73% of professional respondents indicated that ACUI was their primary association; this makes sense given the multiyear involvement of many. For those who had another primary association, NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education (22.9%), National Association of College Auxiliary Services (14.5%), National Association for Campus Activities (9.6%), and ACPA: College Student Educators International (8.4%) were the most common. Many professionals belong to more than one association; again, NASPA (25.7%), NACA (10.6%), ACPA (10.1%), and NACAS (9.8%) were the most consistent responses. Similar involvement with sister associations was reported in 2019.
MEETING MEMBER NEEDS
The needs assessment posed various questions related to membership benefits to both understand what professionals find most valuable, as well as areas for improvement and new opportunities.
Nearly 50% of professionals indicated that networking was the most valuable benefit of ACUI membership. Another 10.2% noted the online community platform as the key benefit—which is a continual form of networking for members. There were multiple mentions of sharing information, finding solutions, learning from others, and providing a space to interact with those who understand your role on campus.
Education is also a much-appreciated benefit of ACUI membership. In addition to simply indicating education/professional development, access to webinars, courses, and specific seminars were mentioned, alongside the Annual and Regional Conference, by 30.2% of respondents. Others also repeatedly noted the following as the most valuable benefit: resources, The Bulletin, volunteer opportunities, and communications.
In addition to seeking the top-rated benefit, the survey asked respondents to identify two more benefits in which they found value. Education, networking, and communities were once again the top responses. Responses more unique to this question included: connections to corporate members, Career Center, event discounts, Steal this Idea, student offerings, and support for their role on campus.
As noted, the survey also sought to understand what members felt needed improvement or were areas of growth for the Association. A quarter of professionals reported that the website needed attention; identified issues included slow load times, access to information, and difficult registration/payment process. Of note, the website was the highest ranked item for improvement in the 2015 survey; after a new website was launched in 2017, it was no longer a highly ranked concern. The reappearance of issues in 2023 confirm other anecdotal insights—what worked in 2017 is no longer serving ACUI members best. Additionally, another 6.6% mentioned communities needed improvement; while this didn’t always specifically reference the technology that powers the platform, it was noted as a concern.
ACUI is in the process of implementing new and evaluating current technology:
- In June, ACUI launched a new Association Management System, the conclusion of an 18-month process. The new system offers a more robust member portal that allows for easy payment, streamlined registration for online events, and more access for campus representatives to manage rosters and membership information.
- ACUI has started a website redesign process. Member input from this and other surveys, as well as site analytics, will be used to inform decisions. Additionally, some members will be invited to participate in an activity to help determine website architecture (menu structure) changes that may be needed. A new site will launch in late 2023.
- A team is being formed to evaluate ACUI’s current online community platform and assess what members want/need from this critical benefit. Information from this survey, as well as focus groups and additional research, will inform the decision on next steps. If it is determined that a new system is needed, ACUI would likely launch in 2024.
- In 2024, ACUI will continue evaluating its technology stack, including email software, online forms, conference session submission system, the mobile event guide app.
Nearly 12% of professionals indicated improvement was needed with ACUI’s educational offerings. It should be noted that the quality of offered education was not mentioned; however, there is a desire for more virtual opportunities (webinars, courses) and requests for specific educational needs, such as executive-level networking, technology, leading with low motivation, facility management, and more. Others noted the need for more education geared toward students.
The other most common improvement requests related to communications, assessment/research, and regions. Currently, an ACUI task force is assessing engagement among the regions and intends to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees in 2023.
When asked what resources they’d like to see developed in the future, 28.0% of professionals provided an education-based answer, both providing ideas for specific types of events (e.g., facility tours, drive-in workshops, panel discussions, on-demand training) and specific content areas, such as human resources, maintenance, marketing, and esports.
Aligning with the improvement category, respondents also suggested more student engagement opportunities (5.5%) and benchmarking service (5.5%). Additional ideas included more career development resources in the Career Center and suggestions related to the communities of practice and website functionality.
CRITICAL ISSUES & JOB SATISFACTION
The needs assessment is a chance for ACUI to understand those issues professionals are facing on campus—and beyond.
Not surprisingly, when asked what the most critical issues facing professionals striving to advance campus community, 20% mentioned budget cuts/restraints and 15.8% said staffing. Other highly ranked concerns were increased workload, burnout, campus climate, administration (lack of support), and understanding how to engage students and how to meet student needs after the pandemic.
Many issues were intertwined within the responses. Turnover at the administrative level is both affecting staffing with the union and the ability to gain approval for budget increases, professional development, facility maintenance, and more. External political agendas impact budget and resource allocation, as well as ability to offer DEI education on campus, often affecting the union’s ability to meet student needs. Lack of support from administration and campus partners, alongside turnover of both student and professional staff, is increasing the workload of many professionals, leading to burnout, wellness concerns, and capacity issues.
Additional emerging issues include campus safety, declining enrollment, negative perception of higher education, and experiencing bias (age, race, and gender).
When asked what resources were needed to address these issues, many simply stated they needed “more”—more money, more staff, more time, more resources, more engagement. In responses related to how ACUI could assist, professionals sought benchmarking/assessment data to help them advocate for “more,” opportunities to engage in roundtables to discuss critical issues with colleagues, and more resources related to budgeting, strategic planning, leadership development, and mentoring.
Despite the issues faced each day on campus, professional members were still able to focus on the positive. Nearly all respondents mentioned students when asked what satisfied them most about their job—seeing students succeed, grow, and transform keep those in the field motivated to continue working.
MORE EDUCATION INSIGHTS
The needs assessment asked three specific questions related to education. Survey respondents were asked to:
- Identify the top two forms of preferred learning. From the suggested responses, presentation/lecture (66.8%) and roundtables (55.9%) were the highest rated.
- Rank how they were likely to spend professional development money. Annual Conference, Regional Conference, and virtual offerings were the top three.
- Provide ideas to make webinars more engaging. Responses ranged from ideas to make webinars more interactive (e.g., breakout rooms, attendee introductions, using cameras, question-and-answer time) to having more handouts/resources available and a greater variety in topic areas. Some respondents did note that they were happy with their webinar experiences, while others noted that “Zoom fatigue” resulted in them not attending many webinars recently.
FUTURE OF THE WORKFORCE
With the Great Resignation, funding concerns, burnout, and more, ACUI wanted to quickly assess professional members’ plans. Most (72%) indicated that, three years from now, they would still be in the college union and student activities field—with 38.6% hoping to be in an elevated role. Of those who did not see themselves in the field three years from now (61 respondents), 25 plan to retire, 19 intend to move into another role within higher education, and 17 will leave higher education.
The remaining questions asked on the needs assessment will provide guidance to volunteer groups and/or staff when determining how to best meet member needs in the coming year. Below is a general overview of responses in these areas.
- If you haven’t volunteered in the past two years, what has prevented you from volunteering with ACUI?
Respondents were allowed to choose more than one response. The top responses were too many other professional commitments (38.1%), too many other personal commitments (37.5%), and lack of financial resources (14.7%).
- How can ACUI’s communities of practice be a more valuable benefit?
In addition to requests for specific communities that could be created, respondents noted offering more community meetings/better communication about meetings, making the forums easier to use, curating more content/resources to be shared, and more.
- How can ACUI support your diversity and inclusion efforts?
Responses included training resources, DEI programming ideas/examples, assessment, and more. Professionals indicated a need for more training/education in this area from ACUI that they can then use to provide training/education to staff/students.
- What assessment-related resources would be the most beneficial in your work?
Assessment resources were noted at various points in response to other survey questions. Many responses related to specific assessment needs (e.g., facility square footage) and desire for benchmarking information, while others wanted resources for how to conduct an assessment or how to use existing data to make decisions.
- Through which social media platforms would you prefer to get information about ACUI?
Respondents were allowed to choose more than one response. The top three platforms were Facebook (49.5%), Instagram (46.3%), and LinkedIn (39.9%).
Understanding Graduate Students
Of the nine graduate students who responded, a majority (67%) have been engaged with ACUI for less than one year. The organizations the students were also affiliated with included NASPA, NACA, and NODA.
Much like professionals, graduate students value the networking and community found within the Association. Other top benefits mentioned include trainings, courses, scholarships, and The Bulletin. Those benefits in need of improvement included volunteer/internship opportunities and the communities; the latter was also ranked highly for professionals.
- Two survey questions asked graduate students how ACUI could improve the communities and online learning. For the communities, respondents noted improved navigation, increased engagement for graduate students, and more details about each community to understand potential connections. And for online learning, the graduate students suggested that materials were shared beforehand, each webinar begin with attendee introductions via the chat, and the inclusion of more games/activities.
- Like professionals, graduate students ranked presentation/lecture and roundtables the highest when identifying preferred learning.
- Graduate students expect to engage with ACUI through Instagram and LinkedIn; the other platforms were either only noted by one respondent or not at all.
FUTURE OF THE WORKFORCE
Of the respondents who answered, five indicated they plan to go into the college unions and student activities field, while one plans to pursue a career outside of higher education. Much like professional respondents, when asked what is the most appealing about working within the field, graduate students noted the connection to students and making an impact in students’ lives.
However, the survey revealed that graduate students do have concerns about the future. When asked the most critical issues facing them at this moment, graduate students mentioned finances, career planning, and mental health. The respondents expressed concerns about finding jobs, keeping jobs, paying for the remainder of their schooling, and finding a balance between the demands of school, work, and life.
Understanding Undergraduate Students
Nearly 70% of undergraduate students who responded to the survey have only been engaged with ACUI for less than one year. The limited exposure is likely due to the pandemic when undergraduates didn’t have as many entry points for engagement.
Undergraduate students found many offerings of ACUI beneficial. The most mentioned were networking and community—like other groups who responded to the survey. Other noted benefits included webinars, conferences, and leadership development. When it came to room for improvement, the undergraduate student responses echoed professionals, mentioning frustrations with the website and awareness of educational opportunities. This group also advocated for more information about how to network beyond events and more opportunities for students to engage with the Association.
- Undergraduate students suggested the following to make online learning more engaging: games/polls/quizzes, more open discussion, sharing notes/summary of webinar.
- Like professionals, undergraduate students ranked presentation/lecture and roundtables the highest when identifying preferred learning.
- About half of the students looked to Instagram for information from ACUI; other platforms mentioned more than once include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and TikTok.
FUTURE OF THE WORKFORCE
Undergraduate students were split, with about half reporting they do plan to have a professional role within the college unions and student activities in the future, and the other half desiring a career outside of higher education.
As they consider the future, undergraduate students have many of the same concerns as graduate students and even professionals. They expressed fear about finances, burnout, work/life balance, mental health, and more. Additionally, the students noted a lack of mentorship or insight on how to find and keep a job after graduation.
These concerns are connected to the content that undergraduate students desire from ACUI. Responses to this question ranged from tips on time management and how to be more professional to how to budget and overview of master’s programs.
While the Needs Assessment highlights what the Association is doing right, it is important to address the gaps mentioned by members. Current plans to address issues, as noted previously, include a website redesign and introduction of new Association Management System. Also, the Regional Engagement Task Force will use data from this survey and other research methods when making recommendations to the Board of Trustees.
ACUI’s staff and volunteers will continue to use the data from this survey over the next year when considering educational topics, technology improvements, and new ways to meet needs in the areas of assessment and diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Board of Trustees will also use results from the Needs Assessment to help shape the Association’s 2024–29 strategic plan.