Dwyer, M. (2010) 2010 Student Surveys Macleans.Ca OnCampus, February 15

This article provides results of two student surveys conducted by Canadian universities. One is the NSSE, a survey developed primarily for United States students. The NSSE is a study of best educational practices and an assessment of the degree to which each university follows those practices. Fourteen Canadian institutions representing 8,965 students participated in the 2009 survey. Canadian universities generally fared worse than their United States counterparts on the NSSE rankings.

The other survey is the Canadian University Survey Consortium (CUSC). CUSC’s focus is largely on student satisfaction. Each year, its survey targets one of three student populations: first-year students, graduating students and all undergrads. In 2009, 34 institutions took part.

From the article:

In its summary of the 2009 results, CUSC said most graduating students had a positive assessment of their university and its faculty. Nearly nine out of 10 were satisfied with the overall quality of their education and their decision to attend their university. The vast majority agreed that their professors were knowledgeable in their fields, encouraged class discussion and were accessible outside of class. But the report identified one key area of weakness, summed up as “inclusion.” Fully a quarter of students stated that they didn’t feel like they were part of their university. Perhaps not surprisingly, the number was higher for students attending larger institutions (31 per cent) than for those at smaller schools (21 per cent). An even greater number of students—57 per cent—reported feeling they sometimes got the runaround at university. Again, smaller institutions tended to fare better on this measure with 54 per cent of students voicing this complaint compared to 62 per cent at larger schools.

I found the individual charts comparing different institutions very interesting. Although large research universities such as Toronto, UBC, and Uof Alberta, seemed to come off worse on most of the criteria, there were individual exceptions on some variables.

One curious finding is that the universities with the highest demand for admissions seem to have the lowest satisfaction ratings. Maybe the old Confucian motto applies: Happiness = achievement over expectation. Given though the overall ranking of satisfaction was quite high, perhaps Festinger’s ‘cognitive dissonance’ theory also holds: once you’ve made a choice, you tend to reinforce the view that it was correct. Then there’s the old prof theory: ‘What the hell do students know, anyway?’


  1. Hi, Tony. I, too, found that online university students (graduate students) felt disconnected from the university. In my study, participants struggled with their identity as online learners, and how they were perceived by the university community.

    For instance, a participant in Focus Group 2 felt “online students feel … disenfranchised, alienated, [and] not really part of the overall university community.” As well, survey participants felt marginalized as online learners and wanted to be more present at the university, faculty, and graduate division.

    Another participant mentioned, “The one disadvantage I feel/felt is that I feel ‘unknown’ by the program administrators when I phone or visit the campus.” A survey participant commented, “At times, I felt the university really liked my money but had little time to deal with me as a learner. There is a sense of being a ‘second class’ citizen on the campus.”

    Interviewees commented they wanted to be part of the academy, and gain the whole student experience like those on campus. A survey participant stated, “[T]he rest of the university acts like we do not exist – we get lots of notes about special lectures, but I don’t see information about access to Webcasts or archives of those.” An interviewee felt both academic and non-academic aspects of the university should be offered to online students.

  2. Thanks, Kelly.

    Yes, I’m sure that online students often feel alienated, although I found that with good online support from their instructors, this could be very much reduced.

    The interesting thing about this survey though is that this is a survey of on-campus students primarily. It is disturbing that a large proportion of on-campus students should also feel alienated.


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