The Chronicle’s View: Student polls are inaccurate

A brief history lesson:

Last April, student leaders commissioned the Office of Student Affairs to conduct a poll gauging students’ interests in footing the bill for universal health insurance. Of the nearly 30,000 students enrolled at the U, slightly more than 3,000 were contacted with an optional e-mail survey. Of this 10 percent, just 463 actually responded – roughly one in every 6.5 students e-mailed.

The pollsters then declared with “95 percent confidence” that these 463 students with enough time and liberal enough junk-mail filters were representative of the entire student body.

Now, when the administration tries to induce competitive offers among health-insurance carriers, they use this information to convey the interests of students.

Not students who already have coverage, and likely wouldn’t be bothered to respond – especially if they were unaware of the small sample size.

Just “students.” Whoever they are.

Unfortunately, the Associated Students of the University of Utah are again charged with ensuring that we favor a change in policy. A $10 increase in student fees may not be as significant as the health-care issue, but that’s why this poll is even less likely to be verifiably accurate.

Even though student leaders plan to e-mail the entire student body this time instead of taking a random sample, it probably won’t work out any better. Unless people are particularly riled up about forking over an extra $3 to study abroad programs and $7 to fine arts productions, it’s doubtful they’ll be moved to voice their dissent. On the flipside, those who value these institutions particularly are more likely to respond.

Again, the problem isn’t the fees. It’s probably about time a little more was devoted to fine arts, actually. The stated goal of allowing any student to attend any faculty/student production for free is impressive. Study abroad programs also enrich the student experience at the U. Since the fees will not be geared toward any specific department, this isn’t a very threatening proposition, either.

As student fees are already $313.14 per semester, these additions are on a par with natural inflation. Administrators have even promised to contribute $1 for each participating student.

But, while they’re at it, why not spend those tens of thousands of dollars to commission a professional poll (wherefore art thou, Dan Jones?) that would contact a truly representative sample of students-perhaps even by phone?

They could cover all the bases: a student life center, the gun ban, health insurance and any other year-to-year changes like student fees. All at once. Once and for all.

Otherwise – unless they believe it’s more feasible to gather this knowledge through separate appeals – it seems the U administration prefers to let “student opinion” falsely mirror its own.