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Deliberative Opinion Poll: More Affordable Education

Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 19:04

On Monday, two-hundred Stetson students were invited to participate in a deliberative opinion poll as an initiative to involve students in the university's politics. The main focus: how do we make a Stetson education more affordable? The poll was put on by a combination of students and faculty, with the idea sparked by class discussions of "participatory democracy" in a Stetson course titled Community Organizing for Social Change. This particular poll was meant as a "test run" to see if a greater Volusia County Deliberative Opinion Poll would be effective. The whole event lasted for three hours, and provided cultural credit and free food for those who participated. A large amount of students turned out for the event, as well as faculty members, representatives from multiple student organizations, and outside media.

The poll began with students filling out a pre-emptive survey about their financial situation at Stetson, followed by introductory speeches about college finances by Dr. Patrick Coggins, Jessie Ball DuPont Endowed chair and professor of Education, and Deborah Thompson, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Campus Life. Students then broke off into designated groups where they, along with members of the faculty and a faculty moderator, discussed ways for Stetson to better budget finances and the areas they felt needed to remain well funded. Each group designated a student to take notes during the group discussion and each group formulated questions.

When the students reconvened in the Elizabeth Hall Chapel, they shared what their individual groups discussed and provided questions they wished to ask the panel, which consisted of Dr. Coggins, Ms. Thompson and Dean Grady Ballenger, who took notes on the student's opinions. Discussion of using the budget more effectively and making our Stetson education worth the high tuition fees addressed a wide array of topics including: increasing Stetson's green initiative to save on electricity costs, bettering book return rates and text book prices, cutting miscellaneous costs (such as IT support), whether the continuation of Division I athletics is worth the cost, and better alumni connections and successful career planning resources to help students pay off their college debt.
Two things that students and faculty seemed to agree upon across the board was that students should be informed in greater detail where their tuition and housing fees are being designated, and that small class sizes and one on one professor/student interaction is an area that should remain the same (as the majority of students agreed that is their favorite aspect of their Stetson education).

The poll ended with students having their questions answered by the panel and then filling out a final post-survey. Overall the poll went well and gave students the opportunity to voice their opinions to key members of the faculty. When asked what she and the other students were hoping to accomplish by organizing this poll, student Marylin Winkle stated, "Besides determining through this project whether the later planned Volusia Deliberative Opinion Poll is worthwhile, we hoped to engage the Stetson community in politics and political discussion."

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