University tops satisfaction survey

Nearly half of upper-year students surveyed ranked their Queen’s experience as “excellent.”
Nearly half of upper-year students surveyed ranked their Queen’s experience as “excellent.”
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The University has something extra to celebrate this Homecoming weekend.

In a survey of 529 higher education institutions in North America released last week, Queen’s received the highest ratings out of the 10 Canadian schools surveyed.

For the first time last year, Canadian schools took part in The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which has been conducted for the past five years at more than 900 higher education institutions across the United States.

Admnesday, Sept. 21

“It is happening because of a problem with the Utilities Kingston power feed,” said Thomas Morrow, associate viceffective teaching and learning activities.” Fifty-five per cent of first-year students and 48 per cent of fourth-year Queen’s students rated their overall experience here as “excellent.”

These results are double that of the University of Toronto, where 28 per cent of first-year and 23 per cent of fourth-year students rated their school as “excellent.” Other schools whose “excellent” ratings were below the 40 per cent mark include McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

“When you view the results in comparison with other Canadian institutions, I think they indicate a good level of satisfaction on the issue of the quality of [Queen’s students’] educational experience,” Patrick Deane, vice-principal (academics), told the Journal. “These concerns have been a part of the Queen’s reputation for many years.”

He attributed the high rates of satisfaction to the well-rounded experience at the University.

“I think it has, almost for its entire history, been a place not only of high academic standards but it has framed those standards by paying attention to the broader learning environment,” he said.

He added the message from the survey is that the kinds of things that matter to students and enhance the quality of education are under threat in the Canadian system.

“We are grateful that students are finding themselves still enriched in their experience here and we have to be careful to maintain this,” Deane said.

The survey contained more than 150 questions which asked students to rate their satisfaction with their school in terms of academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, active and collaborative learning and support provided by the campus environment.

Chris Conway, director of institutional research and planning at Queen’s, said the research centre generated a representative sample of first- and fourth-year students to complete the electronically-distributed survey.

He said he is confident the results are both reliable and valid.

“It was a large sample survey—we got 1,000 results from Queen’s students,” he said. “In terms of the validity, it’s pretty clear from previous runs of this survey and based on the literature that what [the questions] are measuring is in fact the right thing and it does measure the things that are conducive to good learning.” Conway said the NSSE is different from other surveys measuring student satisfaction because it can identify where an institution is performing, in relation to other schools.

“The bottom line [of the survey is] ... to make a better institution for students,” he said. “If you do badly in an area in the survey, it helps pinpoint the responses you want to make.”

Roxy Denniston-Stewart, associate dean of student affairs at Queen’s, said the survey’s results reflect Queen’s focus on providing a supportive campus environment. “We promote [a supportive environment] in residence and in other areas such as student governments,” she said.

Denniston-Stewart said the results in one category, student engagement, were particularly strong.

“To me, that speaks to the quality of the broader learning environment,” she said. “This is a residential institution where we are able to connect with the students in a more meaningful way, as opposed to larger commuter institutions where it is more of a struggle to get that feeling of community.”

Simon Tam, ArtSci ’07, said he agreed with the findings, adding his experience at Herstmonceux Castle this summer was a high point of his education here.

“The size of the classes fosters discussion, and I feel that this isn’t offered at other universities where class sizes are almost always over 400,” he said.

Alanna Smith, ArtSci ’09, said she thinks the supportive campus environment is related to the size of the University’s campus.

“It is an involved community and everyone has a lot of spirit,” she said. “While U of T has a more spread-out campus, everyone is closer together [here].”

While Queen’s may rank higher than other schools in Canada, results show that many Canadian universities are still trailing behind schools in the U.S., particularly in the category measuring student-faculty interaction.

Clare Helferty, ArtSci ’08, said she believes a lack of interaction between students and faculty is not the problem.

“A lot of people don’t take advantage of office hours, but I’ve had no problems with contacting my professors when I needed to,” she said.

As for Canadian schools generally lagging behind American schools in survey results, David Rodriguez, ArtSci ’06, said it was a matter of “psychology.”

“I think if you’re paying $40,000 for your school, you’re going to expect more from it,” he said. “To be honest, I feel that a school is what one makes of it and the people that come here will generally make the most of it.”

Having taken courses at American universities, Dan Le, Comm ’07, said he was surprised to hear Canadian schools generally ranked below U.S. schools in terms of student-faculty interaction.

“I think Queen’s professors do a good job at getting students to approach them with questions in any way possible,” he said. “From my experience in the U.S., it’s the same [as it is here].” Le added the accessibility of professors could also be related to the relatively small class sizes in the Commerce faculty.

Conway said the lower satisfaction rates in areas of student-faculty interaction and active and collaborative learning are largely due to funding.

“The level of funding is comparatively much less for Canadian schools,” he said. “You can have an academic institution and dedicated faculty but these two areas are most hurt by [cuts].” The University, along with 18 other institutions in Canada, will again participate in the NSSE survey in 2006. According to Conway, these results will be used as a benchmark, providing opportunities to measure improvement.

“The Rae Report specifically mentioned that the NSSE appeared to be a good quality assessment and benchmarking tool,” he said. “Bob Rae recommended that schools participate regularly.”

Denniston-Stewart agreed.

“The results are very promising and heartening,” she said. “At the same time, with any survey, it doesn’t mean we can stop here or that our results are such that there is no further work to be done.

“I’d see it as an indication that what we are doing is appropriate and we are on the right track but there is still room for growth.”

Deane said the University aims to strengthen the results for next year’s survey.

“I think the areas in which students have concerns are very clear,” he said. “We have to be very careful about preserving things that are distinctive about Queen’s, especially in the current financial climate.

“If I have one very powerful feeling about it, it is that student expectations are high and they are right to have high expectations, and we have been able to provide an enriching experience here. You always have to be mindful that that is something you work at, and that is the big challenge.”

Percentage of fourth-year students ranking their university “excellent”

Queen’s — 48 %
McMaster — 38 %
McGill — 32 %
Western — 32 %
Carleton — 24 %
Toronto — 23.7 %
UBC — 20 %
Calgary — 16 %

Source: The Edmonton Journal

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