“We work very hard on the issue of quality,” said Trinity Western University (TWU) president Jonathan Raymond.
All that hard work seems to be paying off as Christian universities in Canada have received a flurry of good news this fall.
On many of the 25 questions covered in the Globe and Mail’s ninth annual Canadian University Report, four Christian schools were prominent among the 14 universities in the ‘very small’ (under 4,000 students) category. The report is based on a survey of more than 35,000 students at 59 Canadian universities.
The King’s University College in Edmonton placed first on the crucial “Quality of Education” question with Trinity Western University in Langely, BC, a close second. In fact, the two were the only schools in any category to receive an A+ rating on the question. Moreover, it was the fifth straight year TWU was rated A+ on the question, the only school to have achieved this distinction. Concordia University College of Alberta and Redeemer University College (in Ancaster, Ontario) received an A in the category, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively, in their category.
On two other key questions – Student-Faculty Interaction and Quality of Teaching – Concordia, Redeemer, King’s and Trinity Western finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. All four received an A+ rating on Student-Faculty Interaction, something achieved by only five other schools among the 59 surveyed. All four received an A rating on Quality of Teaching, something achieved by only six other schools among the 59 surveyed.
The Big Mac
Christian schools were less prominent in another major survey, Maclean’s magazine’s 20th annual University Rankings. This year, Maclean’s ranked 49 universities on a series of objective criteria (such as library holdings, spending per student and number of research grants) and more subjective criteria (such as highest quality and most innovative). By policy, Maclean’s does not include any Christian schools in its rankings. In fact, in its description of a ‘typical’ student, Maclean’s described her as “godless” – probably not participating in religion and allowing belief in science to trump “belief in god.”
However, Maclean’s also reported on two independent surveys which showed quite a different picture.
In the Canadian University Survey Consortium’s annual survey, the only three Christian universities among the 34 surveyed finished first, second and third on the only two questions reported by Maclean’s: “Generally, I am satisfied with the quality of teaching I have received,” and “Satisfaction with the decision to attend this university.” Those three were King’s, Redeemer and Trinity Western.
The National Survey of Student Engagement included only one Christian university among the 56 participating universities this year. (Universities have to pay to be included in the surveys, so many do not choose to be included every year.) That one school was Trinity Western, which ranked second among first-year students and first among senior students on the question, “How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at this institution?” Similarly, Trinity Western ranked second among both first year and senior students on the question “If you could start over, would you go to the institution you are now attending?”
The high levels of student satisfaction of Christian universities seem to be paying off in terms of enrollment.
Like the other Christian universities, Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto has done very well in the rankings in the past, although it did not choose to participate this year. This fall, Tyndale experienced a remarkable 10.7 percent growth in enrollment, reaching an unprecedented total of 1,280 students.
Similarly, Trinity Western University enrolled the largest Canadian new-student body in its history this fall. Overall, Trinity Western’s enrollment dipped slightly, by 0.8 percent – a level that pleased university leaders “in the face of a challenging provincial market that saw five new universities introduced last year,” according to Raymond.
While expressing his delight at the results, Justin Cooper, executive director of Christian Higher Education Canada, a body that includes both Christian universities and Bible colleges and seminaries, told CC.com the results were not surprising.
One of the advantages of Christian universities is that they are smaller. “Maclean’s tells students, if you want the best undergrad education, go to a small university. With smallness, something more human happens and the rankings make that abundantly clear,” Cooper said. “The professors genuinely want to teach, there’s a different teaching/research balance, and professors have more time for students outside of class.”
But it is not just size, Cooper continued. At Christian universities, “there are Christians working there, and that is a huge strength in terms of student satisfaction. Since everyone is a Christian, you could stop and talk to the janitor, who might be the best source of counselling on campus.”
To be fair, larger universities can offer a larger range of courses and perspectives, Cooper said, but that means “Christian campuses need to work hard not to be bubbles, to bring in people with different points of view and genuinely engage them.”
Christian universities also “teach students to relate the Bible to learning and offer an ethical framework not taught at other universities,” Cooper said.
On the other hand, “Faith-based universities aren’t just for students who want to work in the church or parachurch ministries,” Cooper said, noting that Christian universities offer professional training in teaching, nursing and other professions.
In the Globe and Mail survey, Trinity Western was one of only five schools across Canada that received an A- in career preparation, finishing first in its size category, while Concordia, Redeemer and King’s ranked third, fourth and fifth among very small schools on the question. Trinity Western University’s School of Business was ranked the number one business program in its size category.
The enrollment increases were also not surprising to Cooper. “Economic downturns are usually great times for postsecondary institutions. Students want to take time to brush up their skills to be prepared for an economic upswing.”
In addition, Cooper said, “Christian universities are taking their marketing up a level,” using tools such as videos and social media.
Cooper also noted that Tyndale, Trinity Western and Redeemer have all been significantly expanding and improving their campus facilities.
None of this means that Christian universities are complacent about there they are now, Trinity Western’s Raymond noted, “We listen carefully to our students and stakeholders because of our fundamental belief in the importance of continual improvement. We’re mindful that quality education is more than a transaction. Behind the ratings is the pursuit of whole person development and transformation.”