The University of Calgary upheld its predictable pattern of dismal Maclean's magazine university rankings this week, but this time, the poor review came from U of C students, rather than Maclean's staff.
In the University Student Issue--published Mon., June 19-- Maclean's surveyed recent university graduates from across Canada, and asked them to rate their experiences. About half of the universities, including the U of C, declined to participate, citing inaccurate research methods.
In response, Maclean's used the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to obtain results of national student surveys of current students, and published portions of that data in addition to their own survey to compare the student experience at Canadian universities.
U of C students rated their experience at or near the bottom of the list in the two national surveys: the National Survey of Student Engagement, conducted in 2004, and the Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium, conducted in 2005.
The NSSE survey asked: "How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at this institution?" Even though 69 per cent of U of C senior-year students answered "excellent" or "good," this was the second lowest rating of the 15 schools included.
For Queen's--the top ranked university in the category--90 per cent of students said they would rate their entire educational experience as "excellent" or "good."
The U of C also scored last out of the 16 schools included in CUSC.
When asked to respond to the statement: "I am satisfied with my decision to attend this university," only 14 per cent of U of C students responded "agree strongly," and 56 per cent responded "agree." At the top scoring university, Wilfrid Laurier, 51 per cent of students answered the same question with "agree strongly."
U of C vice-president external relations Roman Cooney said the data Maclean's published does not give an accurate representation of the current student experience.
"It's no surprise in that we didn't expect Maclean's to create a survey that would accurately capture the things we've done over the last three to four years," said Cooney. "Every major university but two declined to participate. This isn't just an issue of U of C versus Maclean's."
Cooney said the NSSE in particular is outdated, and the U of C has been working to address issues first raised by the survey in 2004.
"When I first saw [the NSSE results] three or four years ago, the university realized we have a long way to go to rebuild our relationship with students," said Cooney, mentioning current projects around campus, like the renovation of student space, prove administration's commitment to improving the student experience.
"It's a long process, but we're on our way," he said.
Cooney added that CUSC wrote a letter to Maclean's, stating the CUSC survey is not designed for comparison to other universities.
Maclean's managing editor, special projects Tony Keller disagreed, claiming the universities use the CUSC and NCCS surveys for comparison, and Maclean's merely made public results the universities already know.
"Every school already used them for benchmarking, which is just another word for comparison," said Keller.
The U of C Students' Union agreed with administration, and issued a press release stating the data used by Maclean's is outdated, and doesn't reflect the U of C's injection of money for new projects since 2004. The SU cited quality dollars to support teaching, the digital library project and rennovations as ways the student experience is improving.
SU VP academic Shannon O'Connor admitted the results prove there is still a need to focus on undergraduate students.
"A consistently low score on many different rankings shows a need to put more focus on undergraduate students," said O'Connor. "We're starting to do it, but I think there's still a long way to go."
From the cumulative results of the three surveys, Maclean's concluded students at smaller universities were generally more satisfied with their experiences than students at larger research-focused universities.
As for the future of the Maclean's University Student Issue, Keller said it will be published again next spring, though he is unsure of the format it will take.
"Obviously, the goal is to give readers some feedback from current students or recent graduates," said Keller. "I like the idea of using a third party survey--no one can suggest it's Maclean's that torques the questions to create a particular outcome."
The University Student Issue is on stands until Aug. 31.