What’s the best way to measure the quality of a university education?
To create its annual ranking of Canadian universities, Maclean’s uses more than 20 measures such as class size, operating budget, scholarships and library holdings to come up with an overall score for each school.
The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), on the other hand, asks students directly about their university experience to determine how engaged they are with their undergraduate education. Research has shown that students who are highly engaged in their studies and active on campus fare better academically and enjoy a better learning experience than those who are not.
Developed at Indiana University in 1999, NSSE is used annually at more than 400 universities in the United States. U of T participated in the survey for the first time in 2004, along with seven other Canadian research universities.
While U of T students reported a high level of academic challenge, they gave the university lower marks on student-faculty interaction and support services. “A decade of underfunding has taken its toll,” says David Farrar, deputy provost and vice-provost, students. “We need to improve our efforts to enrich the educational experience, both in the classroom and outside, and to help students develop supportive relationships.”
U of T e-mailed the NSSE survey last fall to about 4,400 first- and fourth-year students from all three campuses and in all first-entry faculties. Almost 60 per cent of the 2,400 respondents were women; 73 per cent lived off campus; and 55 per cent of first-year respondents identified as visible minorities.
The university plans to administer the survey every two years to measure the success of the Stepping Up academic plan, particularly with respect to student experience. The survey will also enable the university to compare its performance against peer institutions in Canada and the U.S. “NSSE is the standard U.S. experts in the field have developed to get at the heart of the student experience,” says Farrar. “And that’s exactly where we want to go.”