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by Tunae
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In the retail industry, having a clear understanding of the audience is vital for retailers to customize their products and services to match the needs of customers. Retailers collect feedback from customers via surveys to gain insights into their demands, preferences, satisfaction levels, and areas for improvement. Retailers then use this information to connect with customers and strategically enhance product development and customer service, thus customizing shopping experiences (AxisCards, 2024). Through satisfaction surveys of past customers, retailers utilize perception data to meet the needs of future customers. Similarly, gathering opinion data from alumni may help educators to provide customized learning for current and future students. Educators can gather perceptions from alumni on the adequacy and applicability of their undergraduate, graduate, or professional education. Alumni surveys can help educators determine whether students were taught skills that are required of professionals today. Alumni perceptions offer invaluable insights that drive continuous improvement within educational institutions. By listening to the voices of graduates, institutions can continuously adapt their curriculum and instruction, ensuring they remain relevant and impactful for generations to come.

Designing effective surveys

Much research has been done about how to effectively design a survey instrument (Kasunic, 2005), but the following tips were specifically beneficial to us in our design of an alumni survey distributed to doctor of veterinary medicine graduates (Hansen, Basel, & Malreddy, in progress). Nonetheless, the following tips should be applicable to other disciplines.

When designing alumni surveys, it is crucial to first think about the desired outcomes and expected responses. By defining the survey objectives, researchers can ensure that the survey questions are clear, concise, and relevant to alumni, eliciting the expected responses. Additionally, structuring the survey in a logical sequence ensures respondent engagement and flow.

Designing the survey requires careful consideration of how to appropriately ask unbiased questions without probing or leading language. Question stems should avoid jargon or complex language that may confuse participants. It’s important to include a diverse range of question types to gather comprehensive data, such as binomial, multiple-choice, and Likert scales for quantitative analysis, or open-ended questions for qualitative insights and personal experiences.

Qualitative data may be analyzed using Clarke and Braun’s Six-Step Data Analysis Process, or by utilizing a purchasable program like the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006; Tausczik and Pennebaker, 2010). There are many other methods for performing qualitative analyses, but both of these have been useful in our experience of analyzing veterinary student qualitative data.

Consider a multi-mode survey to invite a variety of respondents to participate in the survey. Mixing modes (i.e., utilizing online, mail, telephone, and interview-type surveys) is a popular method to ensure that most members of the target population have the opportunity to be sampled (Dillman et al., 2014). Respondents also get to choose their preferred method, enhancing the response rate.

To understand the sampling population, gather demographic and descriptive data. Include questions about graduation year, primary major, highest obtained degree, current occupation, geographic location, etc. These data can help in understanding the composition of the respondent pool and identify any demographic trends or patterns in survey responses.

Prior to distribution of the survey to a large sample, pre-testing via a pilot study has many benefits. Pilot studies may be used to analyze the survey items to identify logistical issues or problematic questions. If survey items need to be revised, edits can be made before full distribution. Once pilot study data have been collected, internal consistency (via Cronbach’s alpha) and validity of the survey items can be calculated. Based on the reliability and validity results, survey items may be further refined to improve clarity, relevance, and consistency.

Benefits of surveying alumni

Past literature has identified advantages of survey questionnaires, such as their cost-effectiveness and ability to gather information from large populations (Wilson 2010). Specifically, regarding alumni surveys, the following benefits are the author’s opinions.

  1. Constructive feedback
    Alumni surveys are important as the respondents have already completed their educational program and can thus provide valuable observations on how well their education prepared them for real-world applications. This feedback can identify strengths or weaknesses in particular courses, curriculum, programs, etc. Institutions and instructors may utilize the survey findings to adjust educational practices, improving education for future students.
  1. Identifying gaps
    Alumni can offer valuable insights into educational gaps that would have benefited their careers. Students have a wide variety of goals and aspirations, and the way they apply their education in the workforce varies greatly. Surveys can elicit responses about specific skills or knowledge that were lacking. This information helps institutions address these gaps by potentially adding new courses or modifying existing ones to better prepare students for their careers. Institutions can then continuously improve, ensuring a curriculum that is both applicable and relevant to industry needs.
  1. Maintaining relationships 
    After graduation, alumni may often feel that their institution has forgotten them. Seeking alumni perceptions keeps them connected to the institution. Gathering their feedback shows that their opinions are valued and that their alma mater is committed to evolving and improving based on their experiences. Surveys give respondents a voice, allowing participants to share personal perceptions of their education following application in the real-world.

Disadvantages of surveying alumni

Despite their benefits, alumni surveys are not without drawbacks:

  1. Time-consuming production
    Creating a quality survey that gathers the desired response requires significant time and effort. Development of the survey, pilot testing, data collection, data analysis, etc. may take multiple months; however, this can be mitigated by collaborative efforts among faculty and equal distribution of responsibilities.
  1. Unwarranted responses
    If the survey is anonymous in nature, respondents may feel inclined to provide rude, falsely negative opinions. Participants might use anonymity as a shield to vent frustrations unrelated to the survey’s purpose, leading to irrelevant or unconstructive responses.
  1. Recall bias
    Because alumni have already completed their educational program, there is a potential for recall bias as retrospective surveys ask them to remember their experiences, coursework, and other details from the past. To overcome this drawback, longitudinal studies, which track the same individual over time, may be conducted.

Surveying alumni is a strategic approach to gathering feedback from individuals who have completed their degree program and are applying their knowledge in the real world. The survey responses may be used to continually improve educational programs, curriculum, and teaching methods. While surveys may provide invaluable insights into alumni experiences, they require careful development and implementation to maximize their potential and gather constructive feedback that may be used to adapt to industry and graduate needs. Acting on this feedback is crucial for institutions to evolve and meet the changing demands of the professional world.

Chandler Hansen, MS, is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anatomy & Physiology at Kansas State University. Her research interests include anatomy education, teaching, and learning with recent work focusing on the use of supplemental resources in veterinary anatomy education and clinician retrospective opinions of their anatomy education. Hansen is a graduate research assistant at Kansas State University and holds teaching responsibilities in both the veterinary and one-year master’s curriculum.

Dr. Pradeep Malreddy is a clinical associate professor at Kansas State University, specializing in anatomy and histology. Holding a DVM from India and an MS from Kansas State, he brings a blend of clinical and academic expertise. He has additional certifications in Medical Education Research and Online Teaching from AAMC and Harvard. Dr. Malreddy has developed a one-year master’s program at K-State and teaches courses in anatomy, histology, and physiology. His research focuses on anatomy education, eye-tracking technology, and active learning. An active member of professional organizations like the American Association of Veterinary Anatomists, he has received accolades for teaching excellence and diversity initiatives. He was recently honored with membership in the United Kingdom’s prestigious Academy of Medical Educators.


AxisCards. “The Role of Customer Feedback Management in Retail Customer Engagement.” LinkedIn, 13 Feb. 2024,

Braun, Virginia, and Victoria Clarke. 2006. “Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology.” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3 (2): 77–101.

Dillman, D. A., Smyth, J. D., & Christian, L. M. (2014). Internet, phone, mail, and mixed mode surveys: The tailored design method (4th ed.). John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Hansen, Chandler, Matthew T. Basel, and Pradeep Malreddy. (in progress). “Assessing Veterinarian’s Perspectives on the Applicability of Anatomy Education to Clinical Practice.” Will submit to Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

Kasunic, Mark. 2005. “Designing an Effective Survey.”

Tausczik, Yla R., and James W. Pennebaker. 2010. “The Psychological Meaning of Words: LIWC and Computerized Text Analysis Methods.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 29 (1): 24–54.

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