PSE’s Data Gap: Moving Beyond Maclean’s Rankings

Last week, Maclean’s magazine released their 2018 University Rankings.

I used the same magazine in 2011 to help determine which university I would attend. At the time, I was interested in the quality of the institutions I was reviewing, their reputation, and what students were saying about life on campus. Since then, Maclean’s has added a student survey component to their rankings, and this year, focused on the cost of education across the country.

Unfortunately, the magazine also ranks things like how hard the best universities party, and as covered on a Toronto morning show recently, marijuana consumption amongst students.

In Canada, and especially in Ontario, potential students are fortunate to have a wide selection of excellent universities to choose from. There are diverse choices when it comes to things like program offerings and the cities you can study in. But with so many options, and arguably irrelevant rankings being published - like how much a university parties (spoiler alert: I went to Western, so I know what I’m talking about), students need more resources to choose their path in post-secondary education.

The 2011 me was naively analyzing the number of books in each campus’ library, and demanding a stop by the gym on every tour I took. Now, working at OUSA, we’re advocating for better data collection and reporting so that students are equipped with the best information possible to choose their university. We believe that meaningful policy changes and informed student decisions can only be accomplished if post-secondary education data is hosted in a central location, in an accessible format, that allows for system-wide comparisons and analysis, program-by-program, and institution-by-institution.

The metrics that are most important for students to know about are costs (including all extra fees at a school), experiential learning opportunities, and employment opportunities after graduation. Our wish list at OUSA also includes the need for the tracking and publishing of: admission requirements, available bursaries and grants, demographics of students and their families, living arrangements of students, the province or country of origin of students, class sizes, and OSAP default rates. Future students also need the satisfaction ratings from current students on: teaching quality, library resources, campus accessibility, support services, facilities and overall experience. In addition to employment status after graduation, employment outcomes like location and sector of employment, and compensation should also be made public and easily discoverable.

Doesn’t this sound like a better criteria for a huge investment than which school’s students smoke the most pot or throw the wildest parties? We think so too. Publications and third party groups set the stage for informing students on important metrics, but if the data can be collected and housed centrally by a neutral party like the government, students can trust they’re getting the data they deserve.

We can do better to provide critical information to potential students so they can be confident in their choice of an institution, program, and community that they will invest years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars in.