King's tops student engagement study

Small schools tend to excel at such studies

Maclean's annual edition highlighting Canadian universities

The University of King's College illustrated Maclean's magazine's assertion that smaller universities truly do provide better service for their students in the magazine's most recent rankings of Canadian schools.

This week, both Canadian and American universities got the results of the annual National Survey of Student Engagement, a student survey distributed by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research that indirectly measures educational quality, and has become an essential method of analysis used by most Canadian universities.

In the Halifax region, results varied drastically. (Rankings for Atlantic Canada's universities can be found at the side of this page.) However, during its first year participating in the study, King's College ranked higher than Dalhousie, Saint Mary's University and Mount Saint Vincent University in every published category. King's president, Bill Barker, was extremely happy when he read the article.

"I am elated with the results," Barker said.

Rankings for universities in Atlantic Canada

Level of Academic Challenge (out of 53 schools):

Ranked # 7: The University of King's College

Ranked # 26: Dalhousie University

Ranked # 38: Mount Saint Vincent University

Ranked #46 : Saint Mary's University

Student Faculty Interaction

Ranked #9: The University of King's College

Ranked #24: Dalhousie University

Ranked #26: Mount Saint Vincent University

Ranked #33: Saint Mary's University

Supportive Campus Environment

Ranked #14: University of King's College

Ranked #18: Mount Saint Vincent University

Ranked #28: Saint Mary's University

Ranked #42: Dalhousie University

How would you evaluate your entire educational experience?

(Based on the proportion of 1st year university students who selected "excellent")

Ranked #1: University of King's College

Ranked #22: Mount Saint Vincent University

Ranked #25: Dalhousie University

Ranked #32: Saint Mary's University

How would you evaluate your entire educational experience?

(Based on the proportion of senior university students who selected "excellent")

Ranked #6: University of King's College

Ranked #19: Mount Saint Vincent University

Ranked #28: Saint Mary's University

Ranked #33: Dalhousie University

If you could start over, would you go to the institution you now go to?

(Proportion of 1st year students who said 'yes')

Ranked # 2: University of King's College

Ranked #23: Mount Saint Vincent University

Ranked #30: Dalhousie University

Ranked #42: Saint Mary's University

If you could start over, would you go to the institution you now go to?

(Proportion of senior students who said 'yes')

Ranked #4: University of King's College

Ranked #20: Mount Saint Vincent University

Ranked #39: Dalhousie University

Ranked #41: Saint Mary's University

Click to Enlarge Level of Academic Challenge

What is the NSSE?

The survey focuses primarily on the Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice, created to compare performance across all universities - American and Canadian - in five key areas: Level of Academic Challenge, Student-Faculty Interaction, Active and Collaborative Learning, Enriching Educational Experience, and Supportive Campus Environment. Each school's benchmark result was calculated by the survey researchers, and is based entirely on student responses to a variety of questions.

Although the survey was developed a decade ago, Canadian universities did not participate until 2004, when 11 institutions took part. By 2008, the number of Canadian universities had more than quadrupled, a number that Maclean's magazine attributes to former Ontario premier Bob Rae's 2005 report on post-secondary education. He suggested that Ontario universities administer the survey every two years and said it would "provide feedback on an area of vital importance, so that institutions can start planning to make improvements based on evidence."

Most Canadian universities now administer the survey on their campuses every year or every other year. After receiving results in previous years, universities have devoted significant time and energy to enhancing the undergraduate experiences.

Smaller schools excel at engagement

Researchers at Maclean's believe that small universities excel in these surveys for a number of reasons, most importantly because at most large Canadian universities, the students live off-campus. The time and effort required of students who commute make them a particularly difficult group to engage. This may be the reason why the top performers on the survey are not big, urban, research-intensive universities populated by commuter students, but small, undergraduate-focused, "destination" universities whose students live on campus. King's President Bill Barker says that there is simply something different about smaller university communities.

"Because the results are directly from the students, I know that that they recognize we have something special here," Barker said.

An institutional analyst at Mount Saint Vincent University, Tracey MacDonald, had mixed feelings on the ratings that MSVU received. She said that although MSVU received ratings that were uneven, and some were lower than expected, it was important to look closely at the feedback from the students before coming to conclusions about each of the schools.
"I find with rankings like these, it is hard to keep perspective on how we are doing. The differences between the first place school and the 15th place school are mere percentage points of the score, but when listed visually, it looks much worse."

Whether the schools excelled in the rankings or had lower scores than anticipated, administrators stand by the importance of the surveys and their publication.
"I think it is really important to get the word out to our faculty and staff. We need to know what we are doing well and also what we need to improve, so these surveys are definitely important," MacDonald said.

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