By Thomas Regan
Since 2011, Rider University’s students have ranked among The Princeton Review’s annual 20 “least happy students” three times.
After conducting a pilot poll of its own last year, The Rider News sent out a survey on March 11 in an effort to discover if some students really are unhappy, and if so, identify some contributing factors.
Nearly a third of the respondents reported being “Not too happy.” Dr. Victor Thompson, a Rider sociology professor who helped design and interpret the survey, said, “That’s quite a bit compared to the national average.”
That average is from the 40-year-old General Social Survey (GSS), which asks, “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days?”
Of the GSS respondents ages 18-24 with 13-17 years of education across the country, 10 percent identify as “Not too happy,” while 57 percent said they are “Pretty happy,” and 33 percent describe themselves as “Very happy.”
By comparison, albeit not a direct one, The Rider News survey found a majority of students on campus identify themselves as “Pretty happy,” similar to the proportion in the GSS; however, the extremes are nearly flipped, with 30 percent of Rider students labeling themselves as “Not too happy” and about 15 percent reporting they are “Very happy.”
There were marginal differences between respondents based on class year with approximately 30 percent of freshmen, sophomores and juniors defining themselves as “Not too happy.” Seniors were around 35 percent, but that increase is not enough to suggest Rider is making its students unhappy, Thompson said.
“When you look at the numbers, they don’t get a lot more unhappy or a lot happier or anything,” he said. “They just stay where they are, which suggests it’s not Rider making them unhappy, they’re just coming in unhappy.”
Trying to compare The Rider News survey and the GSS is not without its flaws, Thompson admits, but he also believes there is merit to looking at the results from both surveys.
“There’s not a problem with comparing them,” Thompson said. “Regardless of whether you’re comparing it to the same type of school and controlling for all of the variables that you would need to control for to make it a good, direct comparison, Rider students are much more unhappy compared to the national average when it comes to their peers, as in people in the same age group with some college experience.”
The Student Government Association’s (SGA) vice president and current presidential candidate, Ryan Hopely understands that the university must inspire the middle group to be happier.
“As vice president, always in the thick of conversations about student satisfaction at Rider, I am not surprised that 30 percent of Rider students are ‘Not too happy,’” said Hopely, a sophomore public relations major. “What I’ve come to learn is that the top third of students are engaged and happy, the bottom third are apathetic entirely, and the middle third are those that lie somewhere in the middle.
“These [the middle group] are the students that student groups like SGA should be focusing on. The culture at Rider isn’t all that enticing; it’s not a given that everyone will fall in love with Rider. This is where we, SGA, are at as an organization: ‘How do we inspire this middle third of the population and get them to be engaged?’”
Hopely’s opponent, Hannah Bass, a junior elementary education integrated science and math major, feels the university already has several groups in place for students.
“Some students feel that they are unhappy on campus based on lack of activities and opportunities to get involved,” Bass said. “However, Rider is just the opposite. There are in fact numerous clubs and organizations for all types of students.
Student Government Association has the responsibility to connect students to the activities being offered and to increase student involvement as a whole.”
Students in the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences came in at about 28 percent “Not too happy.” However, the largest discrepancy was between the 24 percent of Westminster and 36 percent of business students who said they are “Not too happy.”
Dean of Students Anthony Campbell said the differences among colleges might have more to do with career focus, rather than Rider itself.
“Westminster College of the Arts, they’re pretty much homogenous in what their focus is,” Campbell said. “They’re going to be singing in Westminster, or in the musical theater program. So they feel like there’s a bond there between them.
“Business students, for example, [are] people who don’t necessarily know where their direction is. You have a lot of first-generation college students who are unhappier in the transition than people whose parents went to college. They’ll choose business, ‘Well, why did you choose business?’ ‘Because that’s where the jobs are.’ Is that really where their passion lies?”
Student respondents rated their satisfaction of prominent areas of Rider — campus life, academics and administration.
Students are most satisfied with professors’ knowledge of course material, as that was rated an average of 3.8 out of 5, and least satisfied with residence halls and their rules, which scored an average of 2.5.
Generally, students appeared most satisfied with their academics, as well as the availability, helpfulness and rules of the administration. However, not one aspect of campus life —Rider events and organizations, campus social atmosphere, openness of social groups and residence halls and rules — scored higher than 2.9, which suggests that students are less happy with their campus lives outside of the classroom.
However, Campbell believes there are more than enough things for students to do on campus, and discredits the common assumption that Rider is a “suitcase school.”
“We average between 1,600 and 1,800 individual, different swipes for lunch on a Saturday,” Campbell said. “When you have 2,400 or 2,500 students living on campus, 1,800 people being here is quite a number. There are lots of activities here.”
One other factor that could contribute to Rider’s unhappiness is its geographical location, as 15 of The Princeton Review’s 20 campuses with the “least happy students” are schools from the Northeast.
After reviewing the GSS by regions, Thompson agreed that there are geographical influences.
“I looked at the regional variations of the GSS, and if you look at people who live in the mid-Atlantic, they are some of the least happy people in the country,” Thompson said. “Generally, people who are not in the Southwest or the West are much less happy. So Northeasterners, Midwesterners and mid-Atlantic people tend to be the least happy people in the country.”
The Rider News survey, created on Google Forms, was sent out via mass email to all full-time undergraduates on both campuses, and it received 350 responses.
There were not enough respondents who identified as Continuing Studies students, so their results could not be used in the study.