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Student satisfaction at the U of C among the lowest in the country, according to survey

By Matty Hume, January 23 2019 —

On Jan. 9, Maclean’s magazine released an article titled, “If students could start over, would they go to the same university?” According to the American-based National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) used as the articles primary source, the answer for many University of Calgary students is ‘no.’

The survey asked students, “If you could start over, would you go to the institution you are now attending?” The results are divided into two categories: “Definitely Yes” and “Probably Yes.”

The NSSE places student satisfaction at the U of C in the bottom 10 for both first-year students and senior students. For first-year students, 53 per cent of respondents answered “Probably Yes,” while 30 per cent answered “Definitely Yes.”

The satisfaction of senior students at the U of C is lower than first-year respondents. Forty-eight per cent of senior students answered “Probably Yes,” while 23 per cent answered “Definitely Yes.” Only senior students at the University of Ottawa are less satisfied than those at the U of C, with 22 per cent answering “Definitely Yes.”

According to the U of C’s vice-provost student experience Susan Barker, the university acknowledges the NSSE survey as a valuable snapshot of student experiences but says it misrepresents other aspects of student experience at the U of C.

“The University of Calgary values the input from our undergraduate students through participation in the 2017 NSSE survey. It is one of several ways the U of C gathers input from our students on the quality of their educational experience, an area that we are committed to continually advancing,” Barker said. “The question about whether students would choose the school again is interesting because the response is not consistent with how students have rated experiences in the rest of the survey which are actually very good. It’s the equivalent of students rating a professor very well on all aspects of a [Universal Student Rating of Instruction] USRI but giving final overall rating for the course a lower score.”

In interviews with the Gauntlet, many senior students at the U of C stated they would return to the U of C and value the experiences they’ve had over their degree.

“If I were to start my degree again, I would not mind returning to the U of C. Aside from the convenience and affordability of going to university in my hometown, I have had a rather positive experience receiving my education here,” said fourth-year communications student Rachel Mezer. “I have found meaningful ways to expand both my education, through participation in two group-study programs, as well as my extra-curricular involvement, as a member of the Students in Communications Club and a volunteer at CJSW.”

Other students share Mezer’s enthusiasm, with a significant focus on the campus community itself rather than their academic experience.

“I would attend U of C again if given the chance because I think the campus has a really positive vibe that encourages students to get involved on campus and participate in the student community,” said fifth-year biological sciences student Erin Laan. “There’s always something going on at school, which is a great way to meet new people and make friends, especially when you’re a first year student.”

According to Maclean’s, the NSSE included 130,291 students from 72 Canadian post-secondaries, resulting in an average response rate of 37 per cent. Among senior students, Quebec’s Université de Sherbrooke ranked first in student satisfaction, with 64 per cent of respondents answering “Definitely Yes.”

According to Barker, the university has been in correspondence with the NSSE and hopes to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the student experience at the U of C. 

“We have spoken with NSSE directly about this inconsistency and how we might work to understand the reasons why,” she said. “We have started asking graduating students the same question at the time of graduation. While we still need more responses and analysis, early trends suggest that one reason is that some students wish they had gone further afield and not stayed at home for their university experience.”

The student satisfaction results from the NSSE and a comprehensive report on the other aspects of the NSSE survey, including experiential learning and collaborative learning, is available on the Maclean’s website.

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