Satisfaction survey needs the complexity of student perspectives

Image by: Zier Zhou

Queen’s spirit can be distilled: tricolour face paint, the Oil Thigh, purple engineers, red Queen’s Bands kilts, or the silhouette of Grant Hall. But for senior students looking back on their years at the University, Queen’s is more complicated than that.

The most recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) revealed that 53 per cent of first-year Queen’s students would “definitely” go to the same university if given another choice, and 35 per cent of first years would “probably” do the same.

The survey asked first- and final-year students across Canada a number of questions about their experiences at university, ranging from faculty interactions to teaching methods. While Queen’s ranked well in student engagement, other schools such as Sherbrooke were notable for their increases in student satisfaction from first to senior year. In comparison, Queen’s students are five per cent less likely to say they’d “definitely” return by senior year.

This is largely good news. But while our university is well-known for its powerful community, it lacks systems of consistent student support. Frosh at Queen’s are intensely supported from the first day of Orientation Week, cushioned by dons, O-Week leaders, sympathetic professors and special events tailored to their university transition.

When students reach second year, they’re suddenly at a loss for ever-present authority figures and are responsible for cooking, cleaning, and laundry along with equally adrift housemates. They’re given fewer resources—Student Wellness Services and academic counsellors have weeks-long waitlists—and expected to adjust quickly to heightened academic expectations while simultaneously juggling extra-curriculars.

The University’s lack of support for students beyond first year results in students trying to mold themselves to Queen’s rather than the reverse.

Queen’s has an undeniable power over its students, proven by the yearly rush of alumni returning to Homecoming. But this is balanced against the breadth of students concerned about campus mental health resources and a privileged culture which could lead to marginalization.

Before celebrating our high rates of student satisfaction, it’s important to consider which voices go unheard in NSSE’s survey.

The NSSE is a useful tool for universities to understand how student attitudes change year-to-year: they can measure the point at which individuals lose satisfaction with their university experience. But because so much changes between one’s first and senior years, the survey would be more productive if it annually surveyed students in each year of study.

Given the number of students who flounder after first year, we should find a way to bolster students in their transition to a more independent lifestyle. Between the administration, Residence Society, and various clubs, there’s ample room to support students who feel lost.

It’s undoubtedly positive that most surveyed Queen’s students are proud of their university. However, that’s no reason to ignore the perspectives of senior-year students who doubt their role in the school they chose.

Journal Editorial Board


Student Engagement, students, surveys, universities

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