I was at a research meeting a few weeks ago with colleagues from universities across the county. One of them pulled out the new MacLean’s Magazine, university ranking issue. My university is on the bottom, it’s not just the bottom, it’s the bottom of the bottom category, primarily undergraduate universities. My colleagues teased me, and asked me what I thought about it. Here is my response…
Sure, we have the distinction of vying for last place on alternate years with another institution for that bottom spot, but let us look at the numbers, really look at them and the story behind them. The University College Cape Breton came into existence in 1974, but was transformed in 2005, when the trades and technical programs were transferred to the Nova Scotia Community College. Under the name Cape Breton University we are only 12 years old and that makes us one of the youngest players in the field in name at least. It’ no wonder we don’t rank highly in “reputational rankings”. It’s the same for most of the universities on the bottom of that list.
But on the other hand, we are small, and I like it that way. I don’t think our goal will or should ever be to compete with the bigger universities. Historically the mandate for our university has come from the community, who lobbied for an educational institution that could meet the needs of a changing economy. When most people think of Sydney, the think of tar ponds, but coal and steel no longer drive industry here. Instead just the opposite. CBU has become one of the first carbon neutral universities in North America through the construction of three wind turbines and environmental sustainability is a concept woven into all of our programs along with innovation and entrepreneurial problem solving. Examples of this can be seen in the Purdey Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business with arose out of collaboration with local Mi’kmaw communities as well as Unama’ki College making CBU the university of choice for Aboriginal students for the past 30 years. One of CBU points of pride is to be Atlantic Canada’s leader in Aboriginal post secondary education celebrating more than 500 Aboriginal graduates. The majority of our students are local, whose parents and grandparents navigated the economic downturn with the end of industrial Cape Breton in the 80s. The student experience is tailored to their needs.
How? From that same MacLeans report you can read that we rank 4th in the country for student teacher ratios, which according to educational research is one of the leading factors supporting student success. CBU is a friendly and welcoming environment where students and faculty for the most part are on a first name basis. We rank 7th in funding from SSHRC and 8th over all in faculty research dollars in the undergraduate category. When this is compared to our total student population of 2904 it means that most faculty have a common complaint: it’s challenging to find enough student research assistants. We are the only undergraduate university in Canada with a Cryo-TEM electron microscope. For a student looking for hands on experience we are rich in opportunity.
Though our calculated average entering grade is 86.3, we accept students with a variety of grades and experiences, that does impact our retention rates, because students come and try it out and might decide they need a different opportunity. I like to think of CBU as a place of second chances, because if you are motivated departments and schools will work with you to help you find your way. Our current motto is “happen” but I don’t think that captures what we do well. I think it should be Rise, because it’s out of the environmental and economic problems in Sydney the university has risen to work collaboratively with the community and we support the students to do the same. To rise out of their current conditions, to something new. Unlike some of the universities that top the Maclean’s list, you do not have to have achieved greatness already, we support students to come as they are and rise to where they want to be.