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As most university students across Canada head back to school today, one question continually baffles university administrators, faculty, and parents: What do students want?

Last month, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (an Abacus client) released another report from its province-wide survey of over 10,000 Ontario undergraduate students.  The report, entitled What Students Want finds that students are principally concerned about paying for their education, the quality of teaching, and student services provided on campus.

Most interesting, the report finds that there is a strong relationship between faculty availability and satisfaction with teaching quality.  As faculty are more available to meet with students, students become more satisfied with their learning experience.

This finding is not counterintuitive.  Thinking about my own experience teaching undergraduate students, I found that when I had a chance to interact and get to know my students, they were more engaging in class and had a better grasp of the material.  This was especially true in a course like Political Science Research Methods.  Most social science students dread the very idea of statistics or numbers.  But when I built rapport and trust (this was easier for me because I looked the same age as many of my students) more students asked questions and sought help.

As post-secondary institutions across Canada grapple with rising enrollment and decreasing government grants, the nagging question remains – “what do students want?” My experience tells me that schools should focus less on student experience offices and staff and more on lowering class sizes, hiring faculty who love to teach, and encouraging the use of innovative technologies like clickers in classes.  The institutions that take charge and do some things differently will be rewarded by recruiting higher quality students and building better reputations within their communities.

Good Decisions Require Good Data.