For the past 25 years, Maclean’s magazine has released a comprehensive ranking of Canadian Universities.
The ranking takes into account numerous categories including, but not limited to: program details, finances, scholarship opportunities, reputational rankings, and historically, survey results conducted by the universities themselves.
This year, for the first time in the magazine’s history, instead of relying on the independent surveys distributed by each academic institution, they conducted their own Student Satisfaction Survey to receive unique data on the lived student experience.
The survey asked questions related to familiarity and closeness with professors, feeling prepared to enter the workforce, critical thinking education, mental health services on campus and more.
If you’ve been keeping up with these rankings, you will know that this year McMaster received an overall fifth place ranking among Canadian institutions, and according to the Student Satisfaction Survey, it is the top ranked university for the provision of mental health services. McMaster Daily News was quick to tote the university’s place at the top of the Mental Health pyramid, but many students can attest to the fact that the school, like many others, still has a long way to go before being considered a front-runner in the Canadian mental health awareness journey.
In one breath, there are elements of McMaster’s mental health provisions that are fantastic and an undeniable privilege compared to the facilities available to our academic neighbours. We have on-campus services that provide counselling and therapy, the McMaster Student Absence Form that allows students to take time off in moments of ailment, and a few student-run services that work to give students one-on-one time. But just how many students are actually able to access these programs?
As someone who has used these services, I know that there is often a waitlist for services, and barriers with professors and programs can arise when filing documentation or completing an MSAF [FEB. 12, 2015 – “Let’s talk about the MSAF”].
The Satisfaction Survey received responses from over 10,000 students across the country, with 310 of those being from McMaster. A mere 1.02 percent of McMaster’s 30,000+ student population was surveyed to reach this ranking, and the magazine acknowledges that it was not the most in-depth analysis for this particular category.
This is an extremely small population of people to begin with, but on top of this, of this one percent, how many of these students have actually experienced mental health concerns to the point that they’ve required McMaster’s services?
The only question on the survey related to mental health was “How would you rate the following at your school,” with “Mental Health Services” being one of the rated categories. The survey was not detailed in this category, and as excited as the university is, and many of its students are, to receive this ranking and celebrate McMaster’s efforts to improve mental health treatment on campus, we cannot convince ourselves that it is an appropriate representation of the services we provide for students.
Thousands of incoming university students see these rankings and make their choices based on the information provided. While this rank is a boost for the University, we still have an obligation to continue working to make sure our mental health services are the best they can be, and keep incoming students informed about the realistic limitations of our services, as well as our efforts to improve them.
Just because our university has received this one unsubstantiated ranking, it does not mean we have peaked at our ability to adequately serve the needs of all our students.