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Character Clearinghouse

Florida State University

Taking Student Expectations Seriously: A Guide for Campus Application

Reviewed by Jessica Mestre, Michigan State University

What do your students expect to experience at your college or university? What expectations do they have about classes, student life, faculty and staff, the institution’s values, and the outcomes they will achieve as a result of their student experience? These questions may seem fundamental, but can you answer them with data or are you limited to hypotheses and anecdotes? Taking Student Expectations Seriously: A Guide for Campus Applications tackles this issue directly, arguing that colleges and universities cannot meet students’ expectations without first accurately understanding what those expectations are (Miller, Kuh, Paine, & Associates, 2006).

Key Points

The authors of this guide assert that faculty and administrators should take students’ expectations seriously “because they form the foundation of the nature of the relationship students have with their college or university” (Miller et al., 2006, p. 3). This information equips administrators and faculty with the tools necessary to improve the quality of their educational offerings and avoid discrepancies between what students anticipate and what they actually experience. Institutional leaders can create learning environments that align with the hopes and priorities of their particular student population, while also identifying any areas that require managing student expectations in the interest of being reasonable.

Used in conjunction with Promoting Reasonable Expectations: Aligning Student and Institutional Views of the College Experience (Miller, Bender, Schuh, & Associates, 2005), this guide intends to:

  • Inform discussions about student and institutional expectations
  • Design assessments of relevant student experiences and school conditions
  • Point to policies and practices that institutions can create or modify to enhance student learning and educational effectiveness (Miller et al., p. 1)

Specifically, the guide draws from the College Student Expectations Questionnaire (CSXQ) and the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ; the predecessor to the National Survey of Student Engagement or NSSE), identifying themes in the data from four real institutions (presented with pseudonyms) with different missions. The text details indications from the questionnaire results, campus assessment issues, and points to ponder in each of the four examples. The authors highlight that needs and strategies will vary from campus to campus, so those responsible for designing surveys should take care to balance “nationally-normed and locally-developed instruments” (p. 5). Once informed by these data, administrators and faculty will be more knowledgeable about how to appropriately challenge and support students to maximize learning and growth.


Understanding students’ expectations creates opportunities to strengthen the relationships between students and their institution. Survey data “illustrate the kinds of things faculty, staff, and others can consider to close the gap between expectations and experiences and enhance collegiate quality” (Miller et al., 2006, p. 44). For example, if faculty expect students to spend a certain amount of time outside of class engaging with the course content, yet students only expect to dedicate a fraction of that amount of time to studying, this gap needs to be addressed. The guide offers ideas including but not limited to learning communities, orientation, curricular requirements, admissions materials and messaging, and faculty and staff development initiatives.

The implications of this text all ultimately tie back to the students and their educational experience. If institutions take students’ expectations seriously, and take action accordingly, students will benefit. Although the guide itself does not address students as part of the audience, one could draw conclusions from the themes that the authors explore. Students must think about what they hope to gain from their college experience, and they need to be responsive if their college or university seeks their input. Institutions must be mindful of survey fatigue, but students also need to do their part to create a healthy relationship with their college or university.

Connections to Character, Activism, and Advocacy

Knowing how students expect to change and grow in college helps administrators and faculty challenge and support students more effectively in the course of their personal development. If students are not expecting to develop their character, how can institutions engage students around this topic and challenge them to do so? These are the tough questions that administrators and faculty need to ask themselves and work collaboratively to make progress.

Related to this year’s Dalton Institute theme of activism and advocacy, identifying and minimizing disparities between expectations and experience could reduce the likelihood of tense and often painful campus situations. The authors encourage “institutional leadership to engage the areas of dissonance and use them to affect change in policies and practices” (Miller et al., 2006, p. 44). Still, there will always continue to be opportunities for improvement. This fact underscores the importance of providing continuous, productive avenues for student feedback and self-advocacy. If the institution does not offer students a means to voice their perspective and seek change, students may feel that demonstrations and demands are the most effective way to make a difference.

When co-author Dr. George Kuh commented on the connection between student expectations for engagement and activism, he characterized the relationship between them as a positive one. He stated that student affairs administrators “should encourage students to engage fully in their college community and take appropriate action when they believe it is necessary to do so in an appropriate way” (personal communication, November 17, 2015). Student affairs administrators are well-positioned to help students tease out what actions are appropriate and civil, and reflect upon the learning involved in activism, all while being aware of students’ various developmental levels. Part of college is about students clarifying what they believe and why they believe it, and engaging in campus issues is one way to gain personal insights. However, Kuh readily admitted that “the work [surrounding activism and advocacy] has never been more challenging.” There will not always be consensus about the values and beliefs involved in a given incident. With increasingly diverse campuses where students may be interacting with people from backgrounds different than their own for the first time, misunderstandings and tensions are inevitable. Kuh observed there is no way to protect or inoculate students, faculty, and staff from such difficulties. The best institutional leaders can do is to expect and prepare for them.


In summary, Taking Student Expectations Seriously encourages higher education institutions to do just that – solicit data about what students expect from their experience, and use that information to enhance the offerings they provide. By seeking to meet expectations when possible and managing expectations when necessary, administrators and faculty can more effectively craft a learning environment that maximizes student learning. With regard to activism and advocacy, proactively addressing gaps between expectations and experience can help minimize the need for demonstrations. Institutions should offer productive channels for feedback and change to provide opportunities for self-advocacy. Finally, faculty and administrators should invest the time to proactively explore options for how they would respond, institutionally and individually, should student unrest arise.


Miller, T. E., Bender, B. E., & Schuh, J. H. (2005). Promoting reasonable expectations: Aligning student and institutional views of the college experience. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, T.E., Kuh, G.D., Paine, D., & Associates (2006). Taking student expectations seriously: A guide for campus applications. NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

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