The University of Windsor has finished last in a majority of categories — from student satisfaction to quality of teaching — among similar-sized schools across the nation, according to The Globe and Mail’s 11th annual Canadian University Report.
Windsor was lumped into a 13-school group of medium-sized universities with enrolments of between 10,000 and 22,000. The category included the University of Guelph, Queen’s University, Wilfrid Laurier University, Simon Fraser University and Brock University.
Among categories where the school finished last were: student satisfaction, quality of teaching and learning, city satisfaction, career preparation, reputation with employers, co-op internships, instructors’ teaching style, academic counselling, student/faculty interaction, campus atmosphere, class sizes and buildings and facilities.
The university was ranked close to the bottom in all other categories.
“This is really important feedback and we will take it seriously as we continue to enhance our student experience as part of our strategic plan,” said U of W president Alan Wildeman.
The results reflect the opinions of 31,000 undergraduate students across the country who were asked about 100 questions by Toronto-based research firm Higher Education Strategy Associates. The responses were selected to reflect an accurate sampling from each school, including the gender split of the student population.
“We are addressing some of the questions around our facilities and classrooms,” Wildeman said. “We will continue to work with our students as we develop our campus to meet their needs and expectations.
“This will not cause us to say ‘we are doing something wrong,’ but say ‘there are things we need to focus on and strengthen.’”
Wildeman guessed the Globe survey, taken in March, may have been affected by the engineering building construction and demolitions that were in full swing on campus. Campus beautification efforts were also not complete, he said.
He did not want to guess what effect poor survey rankings would have on future student recruits or their parents.
“We do a lot of things to get the message out,” he said. “Our recruiting fair in Toronto (held recently) was very successful.
“Every individual is different. Some people look at these things and some ignore it. We will take it seriously as important feedback and continue to enhance our student experience.”
Some negative trends seem to continue at schools such as Windsor for years, often for reasons beyond the school’s control, said Alex Usher, president of the research firm which conducted the survey on behalf of the Globe.
“Windsor is not a picturesque campus like Trent University,” he said. “It is a commuter campus model because most of the students are from that city. And one thing we can say for sure is living at home while going to school makes you more miserable. Schools do get a boost from students who are living away from home.”
One quick fix for a school such as Windsor is to overspend on safety and security for students, Usher said.
“It plays a much bigger role in overall satisfaction than some people might think,” he said. “It really spills over. It’s one way to show you really care about students. You can’t spend too much on safety if you want students to be satisfied.”
He described the Globe survey as a “tool” among a large number of sources students should use before selecting a university.
“It’s not a bible,” he said. “It puts a little more information in people’s hands then they would have.
“It’s a bad idea to put too much into it. The best thing is to talk with friends and families (familiar with a school), talk to some professors. Ask then why they are there and ‘what’s special about this place.’ Take some ownership and then make a decision.”
Students on campus defended the school Wednesday.
“It bothers me a little bit because the University of Windsor is a great school,” said Ryan Bastien, 21, a fourth-year student in environmental studies. “I feel the rankings don’t take into account the atmosphere this university provides or quality of education. Most of the people I talk to rather enjoy it.
“Like any school it has its downsides, but I feel the University of Windsor is a great school. You don’t have to go across the city to go to different buildings like bigger schools. I don’t know how they go about doing this study, but they really don’t give it justice at all.”
Students don’t pay much attention to such rankings when picking a school, said Anthony Iraggi, 26, a post-graduate student from Kitchener attending the faculty of education.
“I just focused on the program I am in,” said Iraggi, who attended Wilfrid Laurier as an undergraduate student for six years.
He said the faculty of education is “one of the best in the country, so I just focused on that.
“It’s unfortunate the school finished dead last (in many categories), but it doesn’t mean much to me. I’m loving it. I’m really enjoying myself. It’s a great atmosphere and great people.”
One local high school counsellor says she tells students they should at least take a look at what the University of Windsor has to offer.
“I can only speak about what I know,” said Noella Smyth, guidance counsellor at Massey. “I’m a University of Windsor graduate, there are eight degrees in my own family and each would tell you they got a solid education, been very successful in their lives or were able to go on to other institutions” as post-graduate students.
“I tell (students) the best thing wherever they are considering is to always go visit. Talk to students there in your program, graduates or professors. You will get the positives and negatives, then you make the decision.”
Not many students look at such rankings or surveys, she said.
“Kids are so busy they are not likely reading this,” Smyth said. “They might take a glance at it. It’s such a small thing with all the information that’s available.”
She points students to the website electronicinfo.ca.
“There they can find every university in Ontario, browse programs and compare,” she said. “You can look at meal plans and residences side-by-side. You can print any of that and investigate further. That’s a lot better exercise to do.
“When there are open houses, go visit them. We encourage students to do personal tours. Do you really want to spend all that money and not test drive it? Just take what they give you at face value? I don’t think so.” (The Winsdsor Star)