Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What Freshmen Think : Well, Duh

Interesting story at the Globe and Mail:

Data from the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation shows that almost 90 per cent of undergraduate students are satisfied with their class sizes. Nearly as many are pleased with library facilities.

Out of more than 12,000 students surveyed, the majority said their professors are "reasonably accessible" outside of the classroom.

"The overall tone is that they're a fairly happy lot," said Sean Junor, senior policy and research officer at the foundation, which was established by Parliament in 1998 to distribute scholarships and bursaries.

"Those who tend to make a big deal of [the negative aspects], tend to be on the administrative side. . . . It's not permeated down to students, though."

Translation: the only students who are unhappy about university tend to be the "activists" who think the system can work better. I suppose that's true enough; remember the old saying about ignorance being bliss?

This survey was apparently done in Winter 2004-05, when first-year students had a chance to settle down into their classes and adjust to student life. Let's check the findings, shall we?

The survey found most students are content with the choice of courses. About nine in 10 say they feel safe on campus.

Well, that makes sense; not too many students are on campus at night.

But respondents said they would like to see changes in the number of quiet study spaces on campus. While about seven in 10 were content with the study space on school grounds, first-year students said they were happier with them than those in upper years.

You can chalk the discrepancy up to experience; the upperclassmen want more study space because they know the workload's going to be heavy.

The survey also found that although less than half of students own or lease a car, the lack of sufficient parking spots is one of their top complaints. Only 40 per cent of respondents were happy with campus parking facilities.

Well, no one's happy with traffic jams when classes let out.

Also, only six in 10 students enjoy the food served on campus, despite efforts by schools to add more healthy choices to their menus.

I'm not sure, but I think students might be insulted by this. Since when does "healthy choice" equal "inedible"?

Now, the thing is, this survey's got a few people upset, because they don't like the ideas that students are happy with the education they're getting. Not surpringly, the upset people are those who want more government money spent on schools:

James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said the survey gives a "false impression" of the situation at Canadian universities because students don't have a comparative framework.

"To ask students at the University of Lethbridge about the quality of education they're getting, they may be happy with it, but it may be a quality that's dramatically lower than it was 10 years ago," he said.

The trouble, of course, is that student contentment doesn't necessarily equal academic achievement. A knowledge survey of graduates -- like, say, a history quiz for history students first and final years -- would prove to be a valuable step towards demonstrating a need for more post-secondary money.

In the meantime, though, as students line up to register for their courses, we should let them enjoy their upcoming campus life. They'll find out about the real thing soon enough.