NSSE better measure of university ‘ranking’

This week, Maclean’s released its annual university rankings. Queen’s placed fifth in the medical doctoral category—the same as last year—which, according to the magazine, includes schools that “have a broad range of Ph.D. programs and research, as well as medical schools.” Most surprising and disappointing was the University’s fall from third to seventh-place in overall ranking in the national reputational category, as decided by CEOs, corporate recruiters, and guidance counselors. This information is alarming because it shows that potential employers and prospective students alike are no longer looking as highly upon Queen’s, a school that prides itself on its reputation.

The Maclean’s rankings are not, however, a completely accurate representation of Canadian universities, given the categories that have been defined and the schools that have been chosen for each category.

The Maclean’s survey is also not the most important survey in which Queen’s takes part. The McGuinty government has announced that it will distribute “results-based” funding to post-secondary institutions. In light of this announcement, all Canadian schools will participate in the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE), whose results could influence the government’s decisions about who gets what funding.

The 42 questions that make up the NSSE include questions that focus specifically on a student’s engagement with not only the faculty, but also with peers and the overall campus environment. In 2004, Queen’s ranked the highest out of the eight Canadian universities that participated, including U of T and McGill.

While surveys are not perfectly representative of what students think of their schools, they can at least help identify issues that need to be resolved. The University’s Maclean’s ranking for reputation is surprising and needs to be improved upon, as this is one of the critical indications of what prospective students and employers will think of graduates of Queen’s. But before the University engages the world, it would be wise to ensure that its current students are engaged—if not for the students’ sake, at least for the upcoming NSSE 2006.

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