For those of you interested in student ratings of Canadian universities, the Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report – for which we at HESA do the data work – is out today. I’m not going to recount all the gory details here – they’re available both in the magazine which accompanies today’s paper and online. What I’m going to do instead is outline briefly how the data can be used not just to compare institutions but to answer more profound questions about student experiences.
Most of the literature around “satisfaction” in universities indirectly traces back to the literature through student engagement to student retention, and on back to Durkheim (true story: if you just take Durkheim’s work, cross out the words “commit suicide” and write in “drop out of university,” you’re about 80% of the way to summarizing modern student retention literature). But the thing about most retention and engagement studies is that after you run them through the wringer they all tend to end up with an R-squared of about 0.4. That’s not nothing in social science by any means, but it suggests there’s a lot of other stuff going on that Durkheim can’t explain.
One theory bouncing around the HESA offices is that “belonging” is overrated as an explanation for engagement and satisfaction, and that self-actualization is more important. That, in effect, we need to be looking much more towards Abraham Maslow than to Durkheim for inspiration.
Examining data provided by the 33,870 students who responded to our Globe survey is a great way to check these hypotheses because of the enormous sample size, the ability to control for all sorts of institutional factors, and (of course) the very detailed information about satisfaction. It contains a battery of Durkheim-esque questions about belonging, and also some questions that hint at a Maslowian explanation for satisfaction, notably the one which asks students if their institution has the “right balance between work and fun.”
Using both sets of questions as independent variables vis-à-vis satisfaction and comparing the results questions can help us gain insights into the Maslow/Durkheim debate – and where we don’t get clear answers, we can use our monthly CanEd student panel to get further data to answer the questions (wait till you see next month’s survey!).
Over the long term, we think we can build up a pretty good picture of what makes different types of students tick, which will allow us not only to answer questions such as “Why are Toronto Students so Friggin’ Miserable,” but also to answer more profound questions about the sources of student satisfaction.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of this data with you. Stay tuned.