Assessing Canadian universities

The 21st annual Maclean’s University Rankings were released last week and saw Wilfrid Laurier University ranking 11th out of 15 Canadian universities in the comprehensive category.

The comprehensive category acknowledges universities with significant research activity and a wide range of programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees.

This marks Laurier’s first year in this class. Previous years saw WLU in the primarily undergraduate category, which includes post-secondary institutions that are focused on undergraduate studies and offer little graduate programming.

WLU placed the highest out of the institutions that are also new to the comprehensive category this year. Other institutions making their debut are Ryerson University and Brock University, ranking 13th and 15th respectively.

Laurier has moved into the category based on Maclean’s recognition of increased growth in populations and graduate program offerings. Highlights of the study for Laurier include ranking seventh on the strength of its reputation, fourth for faculty awards and fourth in medical and science grants. This shift in category follows the goals outlined in WLU’s 2005 century plan, in which a key area of focus was the transition to a comprehensive-class university by the centennial year.

“This is a really good external indicator that we have been successful in meeting those goals,” said Deborah MacLatchy, Laurier’s vice president: academic and provost.

In last year’s rankings, WLU was placed fifth in the “primarily undergraduate” category.

The school’s rankings have worsened with the change in category this year. However, Jacqui Tam, assistant vice president: communications, public affairs and marketing, notes that this change is incomparable.

“To compare last year’s ranking to where we land in the comprehensive category is like comparing apples and oranges; they’re completely different things. We’re playing in a totally different league,” said Tam.

“The challenge for us is that we make it clear for people what the difference is.”

MacLatchy does not believe that a lower status in the Maclean’s comprehensive category will negatively impact WLU or its enrolment of future students.

“I don’t think students will choose based on where we are ranked, and I don’t think that would be a good idea for students because they’ll miss out on the important factors like program, location and student experience,” she said.

MacLatchy added that she believes the change will be progressive for WLU.

“The reality is, because of its size, we would never have been able to move up past where we were in the primarily undergraduate program,” she said. Both MacLatchy and Tam are optimistic that WLU will progress in the comprehensive rankings in future years.

The 2012 Globe and Mail University Rankings labelled WLU as part of the “401 Dream Team”, along with the University of Guelph and Trent University. These are schools classified as praised education outside of the Greater Toronto Area.

The Globe and Mail rankings are based on a compilation of student surveys, whereas the Maclean’s rankings are polls of collected hard data.

Maclean’s uses surveys in their reputation category, but targets business leaders, human resources professionals, high school counsellors and university officials rather than students.

Highlights of the Globe and Mail survey for Laurier include a rank of fourth for class size, sixth in both instructors’ teaching style and campus atmosphere. Major areas of improvement are in the categories of information technology and course registration.

Tam notes that the two ranking systems allow WLU staff to recognize areas of improvement, and ensure that the areas noted by the Globe and Mail and Maclean’s parallel the areas that WLU itself has targeted. In her opinion, they usually do.

WLU’s grades

  • Most satisfied students – B+
  • Quality of teaching and learning – B+
  • Student-faculty interaction – B+ (9th)
  • Instructors’ teaching style – B+ (6th)
  • Class size – A- (4th)
  • Campus atmosphere – A- (6th)
  • Student residences – B
  • Recreation and athletics – B
  • City satisfaction – B
  • Work-play balance – B+
  • Environmental commitment – B
  • Information technology – C
  • Libraries – B
  • Buildings and faculty – B
  • Research opportunities – C+
  • Career opportunities – B
  • Reputation with employers – B+
  • Academic counseling – B+
  • Course registration – C+

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