University Decisions: Quality Versus Reputation

Posted by: Mike Peirce on May 28, 2015 2:00 am

I recently attended the Ontario Universities “Dialogue” conference at McMaster University and heard many of the same discussions raised…. mark inflation, credit factories, use of additional information forms… and then a counsellor asked a question I hadn’t heard in a long time. It was a relevant question but it took me back a little. “What is the retention rate of 1st year students going into 2nd year?” Many of the universities couldn’t answer off hand but for those interested, the information is readily available on the Council of Ontario Universities under the Common University Data page: There are numerous excellent sources of information about our post-secondary institutions which we need to encourage students and parents to use in their research. The question also reminded me of how often I run into parents and students who are asking the question “Who has the best reputation for….?”

When attending the annual conference of the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) back in the mid-90’s, I heard an excellent and thought provoking presentation by Joe Cuseo, a professor at Marymount College in California. He had conducted research looking at the factors which enhanced the quality of the student university experience in an era where the public was so focussed on the reputation of an institution. The factors which he found to impact the quality of student experience are not even considered when major publications conduct their “ranking” reports. He found that the following were the best indicators of institutional quality: 1) A clear mission and vision. 2) The quality of teaching. 3) The quality of advising throughout one’s academic career. 4) Support during the transitions students face throughout their post-secondary journey. 5) Faculty contact outside the classroom. 6) High quality curriculum. 7) The quality of the co-curriculum. (What a student does outside the classroom can be as important as what is done in class during an undergraduate program.) I believe his findings are just as relevant today.

Let’s face it, reputation is simply an opinion based on a rigid set of criteria which may or may not impact a student. For example, library holdings are often used as a factor in a reputational analysis. This is somewhat dated in the age of e-technologies and interlibrary loans. I’m just happy when a student gores to a library! Ask two different sources, and you will find two different opinions about the reputation of an educational institution. Instead, students need to consider what their requirements and interests are when making decisions about which institution is best suited to their needs. An institution which will provide a quality experience for one student may be absolutely inappropriate for another in spite of how the media may rank the institution. My best advice to students choosing a university is… gather factual information about the characteristics, programs and lifestyle you will face at all your choices from reliable sources and go with the institution which you feel most comfortable with.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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