Research in Higher Education

, Volume 60, Issue 3, pp 338–357 | Cite as

Should We Be Concerned About Nonresponse Bias in College Student Surveys? Evidence of Bias from a Validation Study

  • Trey StandishEmail author
  • Paul D. Umbach


This study uses college student survey data and corresponding administrative data on campus recreation facility usage, academic performance, physical education class attendance, and co-curricular participation to examine nonresponse bias in college student surveys. Within the context of the Groves (Public Opin Q 70:646–675, 2006) Alternative Cause Model, we found compelling evidence of the presence of nonresponse error observed as student characteristics related to the survey topic that also explain their response propensity. An individual’s survey response propensity has a statistically significant relationship with their actual behavior for 2 of 3 survey topics. In 11 of the 13 survey questions used to measure the survey topic behaviors, we found statistically significant differences between the respondent and nonrespondent behavioral measures. These findings hold important implications for survey researchers and those using student surveys for high-stakes accountability measures because survey summary statistics may not be generalizable to the target population.


Nonresponse error Survey research College student surveys Nonresponse bias Validation study 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SAS Institute, IncCaryUSA
  2. 2.North Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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