Last week on August 29th, Concordia’s website published a letter from President Claude Lajeunesse to Maclean’s magazine, outlining his reasons for withdrawing the school’s support and participation in the annual university survey published by the magazine.
The survey is a highly popular special feature of the magazine, released each November, and uses its own weighting system to assess Canadian universities strengths and weaknesses, ultimately delivering a verdict and ranking each school in comparison with the other Canadian universities. Since Concordia began participating 16 years ago, it has ranked as high as 7th and as low as 12th, with last year’s position tied with Carleton University at 8th.
Dr. Lajeunesse’s letter to Maclean’s states: “Our participation has greatly benefited Maclean’s, but we maintain that the benefits to Concordia have been far less clear. In addition to the costs borne by our institution in the collection, analysis, and reporting of the data we request, we consider Concordia’s strengths and mission to be misrepresented in the manner in which the rankings are portrayed and reported by your magazine.”
He goes on to write that although the university has attempted to address their concerns with the magazine, they “have received a less than enthusiastic response.”
One of the ways that this school is unhappy with the way the magazine “rates” Concordia is that it doesn’t take into account “items of special interest to Concordia.”
This school, he says, serves a large-part time student body and that alone makes if fundamentally different from many of the other institutions ranked.
The survey also doesn’t take into account the CEGEP schooling that Quebec students go through before attending the university. He concludes with a final objection: that “inputs” are a poorer measure than a school’s “outputs”.
Bradley Tucker, Concordia’s Director of Institutional Planning, explained it this way, “we may, for example, take students entering with a lower percentage (than other schools) but it doesn’t reflect the success our university has had in retaining our students or graduating our students.”
In short, the “input” information that Maclean’s uses, what kind of grades an undergrad enrolls at the university with, or how many books are in the library per full-time student, is not as useful to parents and potential students as the “output” information, or what kind of education a student comes out with.
Tucker says Concordia is already finding a more scientific way to measure the satisfaction of students with the survey they took during last spring semester. Polling over 10,000 students, with over 5,000 students responding (possibly in a bid for the free iPod being raffled), The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) will provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending their school. Tucker said the number of respondants was amazing and that “it assured a very low margin of error.”
As of last Saturday, a total of 22 schools publicly stated they will no longer lend their support to the survey.
Concordia follows the group of 11 universities that made their united exodus by publicly withdrawing their participation from the survey on August 14th. Among them are : University of Toronto, McMaster, U. of Manitoba, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, Universite de Montreal and University of Ottawa.
The original group published reasons why they feel the ranking is not fair to their schools. Mainly, they “object to Maclean’s misuse of data in establishing a ranking table that is misleading to students and. find the ranking methodology used by Maclean’s is oversimplified and arbitrary.”(from the letter to Maclean’s published on U. of Toronto’s news site)
It also lists concerns with the magazine’s attempt to measure student engagement, saying they have low response rates from students, which in itself is a cause for concern.
Maclean’s appeared to look at this imbalance by publishing a Graduate Survey in 2004, which Concordia participated in, but as it was a short questionnaire of only eight questions posed to graduating students. Tucker said it was deemed “not in the best interest” of the school and they did nt participate for a second year.