In two major surveys, students get the chance to grade their own universities.
There are many ways by which a university can measure its performance, including asking those on the receiving end of an education—the students—what they think. In recent years, a growing number of universities have been doing exactly that. The following pages contain results from two major student surveys: the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Canadian University Survey Consortium—NSSE and CUSC for short. Between them, these surveys examine how involved students are in various academic and extracurricular activities, how satisfied they are with their university and its faculty, and how connected they feel to their school.
The findings show that while students are generally happy with their university education, there are key areas of discontent. In particular, a significant number of students feel they don’t fit in at their university, more often in the larger schools than the smaller ones.
Commissioned by the universities, the surveys ask more than 150 questions about the undergraduate experience—inside the classroom and beyond. The answers help each university assess the quality of its programs and services, which in turn can aid in the design and implementation of strategies to improve areas as indicated.
Recognizing that this data can also be useful for prospective students trying to decide which university is right for them, Maclean’s has been publishing CUSC and NSSE results each year since 2006. They provide direct feedback from students on the quality of their education and their general level of satisfaction.
The U.S.-based NSSE began in 1999 and is distributed to ﬁrst- and senior-year students. Administered by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, NSSE is not primarily a student satisfaction survey. Rather, it is a study of best educational practices and an assessment of the degree to which each university follows those practices. The survey pinpoints what students are doing while they are in school and on campus.
Research has shown that various forms of engagement are likely to lead to more learning and greater student success. And this link exists not only in the more obvious areas of academic endeavour, such as the number of books read and papers written, but also in curricular extras such as conducting research with a faculty member, community service, internships and studying abroad, as well as in extracurricular involvement with other students.