Online Program

Reasons why university students fail to respond to online health and wellness surveys: Looking at qualitative data

Monday, November 4, 2013

Elena Sebekos, PhD, MPH, CHES, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, Florida International University, Miami, FL
William W. Darrow, PhD, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, Florida International University, Miami, FL
Background: A large public university located in the southern United States relies on data collected annually from students to assess needs for health and wellness services. The American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II has been conducted using online methods since 2008, but with unacceptably low response rates: 5.7% in 2010, 7.0% in 2011, and 5.0% in 2012. We sought to identify factors that motivate and hinder students to complete such needs assessment surveys.

Methods: An anonymous health-related survey was developed and emailed to 8000 randomly selected students in spring 2013 to determine the reasons for poor participation and to improve response rates. Students were invited to complete a brief questionnaire and to type in their comments. Atlas.ti was used to analyze written responses.

Results: Of the 632 respondents, 92 (14.6%) offered one or more comments and another 23 contacted the Principal Investigator directly to complain. Analysis of the comments revealed six major themes: (1) incentives, (2) opinion not mattering, (3) length, (4) content and dissemination of survey messages, (5) feedback, and (6) spamming. Sixteen of the 23 complaints received by the PI focused on a single issue: excessive spam.

Conclusion: Survey administrators can increase response rates to health and wellness surveys by addressing the concerns expressed by students. Providing appropriate incentives, minimizing length, disseminating survey results, and reducing the number of requests for survey participation should improve response rates. Reliable information should help wellness center staff allocate funds appropriately and implement more targeted and effective health promotion programs.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Identify reasons why university students do not respond to online health-related surveys.

Keyword(s): Survey, Students

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a doctoral student in Public Health who was involved in the development of the student health-related survey as well as responsible for the analysis of the qualitative data.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.