The University of Calgary has an embarrassing history with Maclean's magazine. We've been slipping in their annual university rankings for years. After peaking at 10th place in 1999 out of a field of 15 in our category, our track record has worsened each year, slipping to 12th in 2000 and bottoming out at 14th in 2002, where we've been ever since.
In 2004, we came in dead last in a survey asking graduates to rate their experience. It should be no surprise then that the U of C has kept up its tarnished reputation in the most recent Maclean's project-a special issue devoted to student feedback. Maclean's used data from three surveys to rank universities on the basis of student satisfaction. Two of these surveys were conducted by national organizations, with the third conducted by Maclean's itself. The U of C limped along at the bottom of both national surveys, sometimes dead last, sometimes beating out a handful of other schools.
Leading up to this outcome, the U of C joined a number of other institutions from across the country in choosing to forgo active participation in the Maclean's survey. Maclean's was seeking to survey graduates from 2002, 2003 and 2004, but the dissenting schools felt that the results would not take into account recent improvements. In some ways they're right.
Here at the U of C, current students have more reasons to be hopeful than their counterparts of two or three years ago, and university administration officials never tire of reminding us of all the awesome projects underway here. Continued quality money to the SU, a wireless campus and plans to build a digital library are all positive things that will improve the student experience, but the concern that consistently tops students' lists is the quality of teaching, and replacing teachers with websites and iPods does absolutely nothing to address that. The University of Calgary should be trying to improve existing programs and services before pushing for all kinds of new ones.
That said, Alberta is awash with cash and currently undergoing a post-secondary review (though no end is in sight). With pledges to limit tuition increases and ramp up university base operating budgets, there is plenty to be optimistic about. But the argument that the student experience has dramatically changed in the last two years is an empty one. Perhaps in two more years it will be true, but refusing to let recent grads fill out the Maclean's survey was wrong. Questions like "Would you recommend this university to a friend?" and "How would you rate your entire experience?" are good ones, and it's a no-brainer that prospective students would like a chance to ask recent graduates those very things.
Another point to remember is that no school-including the U of C-got slammed in these surveys. Yes, comparatively we were among the lowest, but 74 per cent of U of C undergraduates agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with quality of teaching here in 2005. That's hardly a damning indictment, until you do what Maclean's is doing and put it up against Nipissing's 93 per cent satisfaction rate. The methodology employed by Maclean's is nowhere near perfect, but the U of C has been hammered over the same core issues literally for years: quality of teaching, class sizes and now, student satisfaction. It's possible there might just be something at the root of it all, and the solution might take a bit more work than pretending the problems have already been solved.