2011 Student Surveys: Complete results

Students tell universities how the system is working. It’s all about class time.


Teaching often comes second at universities—quite literally. Professors are expected to spend only 40 per cent of their time in the classroom, consulting with students, and marking their work. The rest is spent on research and other duties. The research-intensive university produces world-class discoveries to be sure, but it also produces grumbling undergraduates. The results of this year’s student satisfaction surveys couldn’t show this more clearly. The research-intensive universities for the most part do not perform as well on these student surveys.

Schools that dare to focus on teaching have risen to the top of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Professors at teaching-focused universities like Quest, Trinity Western and King’s at Western are free to spend a majority of their time engaging with students in the classroom, the office or beyond. Considering the fact that a recent study from the University of Alberta found that the average professor is already working 56 hours per week, it’s difficult to expect them to do more. The only way they can spend more time with students is to de-emphasize research. And not all researchers make good teachers. Teaching-focused schools focus on pedagogy in the job interview, says David Sylvester, principal of King’s at Western. It’s certainly paying off for his school. Six in 10 senior-year students say they would definitely go back to King’s if they were allowed to start over, the NSSE survey found. That’s compared to only 45 per cent of students overall, and only 21 per cent of senior-year students from the University of Ottawa.

But there’s another factor affecting student satisfaction that this year’s results reveal. Small campus size matters greatly—even at research-focused schools. Students from Nipissing (pop. 4,600) and St. Francis Xavier (pop. 4,800), which both fight valiantly for research dollars, come out close to the top of the heap when students are asked by the Cana­dian University Survey Consortium if they are satisfied with their choice of university. Most schools with fewer than 5,000 students could rally more than half of their students to strongly agree that they were pleased with their decision to attend. Comparatively, only two large research-heavy schools, McGill and Waterloo, can say the same.

University administrators have long suspected that small classes and a sense of community matter to students. But student satisfaction surveys add the missing proof. The following pages are just a sample of the results of the two major student surveys that Maclean’s closely watches each year. The NSSE and CUSC are where the charts on the following two pages come from. Between them, the two surveys consulted more than 30,000 students in 2010 about the undergraduate experience—in the classroom and beyond.

The U.S.-based NSSE is a study of “best educational practices” and an assessment of the degree to which each university follows those practices. The survey looks at several elements that are considered crucial to an undergraduate’s satisfaction: stimulating courses that challenge the intellect, personal attention from professors, a sense of community and a supportive environment. Research suggests that these things don’t just make students happy—they promote learning, too.

Related: Our 2011 web-exclusive charts

See here for 2010’s results

The CUSC survey is used by Canadian administrators to assess how their schools are measuring up. Nearly 12,500 first-year students shared their views in 2010.

Combine both surveys and the picture is clear. Students who spend more time with teachers are more likely to be pleased with their education. And, for students at least, isn’t that what universities are all about?

Are you happy with your university education?

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) includes a small number of satisfaction questions—including this one, asking first-year and senior-year students to pass judgment on their university’s educational quality.
Teach Me
Teach Me

Would you go back to school at your university?

The majority of students say that they would return to the university they currently attend, but at many schools the level of agreement differs significantly—for better or worse—between first-year students starting out on their academic careers and those who are about to graduate.
Teach Me
Teach Me

How satisfied are Canada’s university students?

The Canadian University Survey Consortium (CUSC) is an annual study of undergraduates, with a focus on student satisfaction. Thirty-nine
institutions participated and almost 12,500 first-year students responded to questions about everything from academics to support services.
Teach Me
Teach Me

Reading the results

The NSSE and CUSC surveys include more than 150 questions. We are publishing two satisfaction questions each from NSSE and CUSC that are the broadest and most representative of the student experience. Each chart lists the universities in descending order of achievement. Responses to questions are ordered according to the percentage of survey participants who chose the highest level of satisfaction (i.e., “excellent”). The CUSC charts list 39 institutions, representing 12,488 students, that took part in the 2010 survey. The NSSE charts list 23 universities, representing 19,148 students, that took part in last year’s survey, and include the NSSE average, which is the average score for the 595 Canadian and U.S. schools that took part in the 2010 survey.

First-year student data are not displayed for Royal Roads University as it does not offer first-year courses. Similarly, there are no results for senior-year students at Quest University Canada as it is producing its ?rst graduating class as of this year.


2011 Student Surveys: Complete results

  1. is this all there is?

  2. I teach at one of the institutions mentioned above. Could we be serious please? It’s not a question of the professors not spending enough time in the classroom. It’s the students who skip class after class, who don’t meet with professors during their office hours, who don’t do their readings, who write essays the night before they are due. Cheating and plagiarism is rampant. Study after study demonstrates it – including the NSSE mentioned above. Students simply don’t work very hard.

  3. Pingback: 2011 Student Surveys: Complete results | Maryville Online

  4. Are students just simply lazy? I doubt it is that simple. The problem is interest and material.

  5. I tend to agree with Arlene. Perhaps today’s student has too many distractions compared to his/her counterpart many years ago. Teachers have to compete for getting students’ attention and they are perhaps not adept in this art given change in context without significant change in teaching methods and pedagogy.

    Also, while I have come across many surveys focused on student perceptions of the teaching quality, I have hardly ever seen surveys of faculty members revealing their perceptions about

    (a)something akin to student quality / learning values
    (b) peer teaching quality.

    Can any one guide me to any such survey?


  6. I’m an older student who has gone back to university to complete a second undergraduate degree and I have to agree that many of the first and second year undergraduate students don’t do a lot of work. They don’t have good study habits, they text throughout class (very distracting) and simply don’t seem to be interested in learning. Some of them seem to want to be “spoon fed” the material. They get upset when exams ask new questions that aren’t simply copies of questions in practice exams or homework assignments. Many don’t seem to be able to apply what they learned to new problems. It’s sad.

    Now, not all students are like this, but there certainly seem to be plenty of them around.

  7. Arlene, I have to admit I had an urge to attack your post. However, as it currently appears that students and faculty just blame each other for the problem of engagement, I will not enter into that. I will state, though, that the difference is one is paying to be there (up to half the operating costs across Canada), while the other is paid well to be there. Maybe there is a needed conversation about changes to pedagogy to engage these students negligent students .

    To Iqbal: http://notes.ocufa.on.ca/OntarioUniversityReport.nsf/0/EE9751D6CD86DEB485257590005738F4?OpenDocument

  8. I have a hard time believing when someone pays $4000 a semester – to pay your salary, none the less – that this is all the students fault. Tenured professors seem to take their invincibility to the next level. They can’t be fired, so they become complacent and oblivious to how their teaching has turned into a mudslide down a *steep* hill. Yes *some* students are terrible, but in the same note, some profs are simply atrocious. As it stands, 90% of them failed to receive any formal training in education.

  9. Arlene, Do you think it’s the students who can’t be bothered to come to class, do the readings or meet profs outside of the classroom who make the time to fill out these surveys? Seriously? The students who make the time to fill out a public survey are probably not the ones who are skipping and cheating…

  10. I disagree with AH about the type of students who fill out these surveys. You’d be surprised at how even the most apathetic student can get worked up if you give them a chance to complain about something.

    Students like complaining, at least my generation does. We think anything and everything is our right. We’re hard to please. ;)

  11. One of the most important learning outcomes in today’s complex world is that of mastering critical thinking skills. As students enter a world that is replete in data and information, having the skills necessary to determine valid and reliable information from spurious and false claims of fact is paramount not only to their individual success but also to the success of the societies in which they live. The need to teach and model good critical thinking skills is a primary reason why colleges and universities throughout North America have begun to question and sometimes withdraw from participation in national rankings and ratings

    The primary reason why Capilano declined to release scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to Maclean’s Magazine’s was due to the lack of reliability of the information as collected. The response rate for the NSSE survey at Capilano was very low; about half that of the response rate for all institutions participating in the 2010 survey. This low response rate to NSSE meant that the reliability of the information collected at Capilano would not provide an accurate picture. The right and honest thing to do was to withhold the information that could potentially mislead students and the general public. In fact, the NSSE results for Capilano University were very similar to the results of our peer institutions and Canadian universities participation in this survey, but publishing these results as a true representation of Capilano student satisfaction would have been erroneous.

    Capilano University, like most universities, is actively developing better ways to demonstrate to our stakeholders the learning outcomes of our students as well as other output measures of efficiency and accountability. In this increasingly complex landscape of higher education, a cautionary tale needs to be told, lest we all fail to model the very critical thinking we hope is achieved by our students. Rankings and ratings are poor proxies as measures of quality. But that being said, our stakeholders need to know that we are endeavouring to find meaningful measures of quality that will give us all a better understand of what students are learning and how that learning will make a difference in our world.

    Kris Bulcroft, Ph.D.
    Capilano University