With colleges and universities partnering, students are finding the answer can be: both

KIMBERLEY NOBLE November 13 2006


With colleges and universities partnering, students are finding the answer can be: both

KIMBERLEY NOBLE November 13 2006



With colleges and universities partnering, students are finding the answer can be: both


Are you the kind of student who does well enough—maybe even extremely well—in school, but likes a bit of practical application mixed with your theory? Instead of sitting in an amphitheatre with hundreds of first-year students, would you prefer small classes, and to really get to know your professor, as well as all your classmates? Would you like to live at home, where you can spend your first few post-secondary years studying rather than swotting up on

those ubiquitous first-year staples, Personal Nutrition and Washing Machine Operation?

If you answered “you bet” to any of the above, you might want to become one of the growing number of undergraduates who start their post-secondary lives by going not to university, but to college.

Canada’s college sector is no longer what you, your parents and even some of your guidance counsellors think it is. Once purely vocational institutions, colleges have undergone a dramatic evolution in the past decade, and are poised for further—some even say transformational—change.

A few years back, it was only in Western Canada where you could find colleges offering accredited baccalaureate degrees, or

universities willing to let you apply your college diploma toward a B.A. without a hassle. No more. “The times,” says David Marshall, president of Mount Royal College in Calgary, one of the pioneers in the innovative undergraduate area, “are a changin’.” Driven by a variety of factors—demand by students and professional associations for higher credentials, government agendas, the increased cost of education infrastructure and an overall shift toward a culture of lifelong learning—colleges across Canada are offering baccalaureates in all shapes and sizes, from what are known as associate and applied degrees, to honours B.A.’s and B.Sc.’s that prepare students for professional training and, in some cases, even graduate school.

In recent years, British Columbia’s pioneering university-college system has evolved to the point where four out of the province’s original five colleges are now accredited as universities. Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo and University College of the Fraser Valley have both won membership in the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, while the University College of the Cariboo is now Thompson Rivers University and Okanagan University College has been absorbed by the University of British Columbia. The only exception, Kwantlen University College in Surrey, is seeking AUCC accreditation as a special-purpose, undergraduate-only university. In Alberta, institutions such as Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton and Mount Royal College in Calgary are teaming up with universities in Alberta and B.C. to offer four-year honours degrees on the college campus. Saskatchewan’s regional college system delivers programs from both the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina at seven community colleges. Manitoba’s University College of the North, formerly Keewatin Community College, is also in the process of expanding its students’ access to university degree programs.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, the college system is almost unrecognizable from 10 years ago. Almost anywhere you find a community college and a university in the same city, they have teamed up to create concurrent degreediploma programs in subjects such as early childhood education, journalism, nursing and business. For example, York University and Oakville, Ont.-based Sheridan College now offer a joint Bachelor of Design. In the Atlantic provinces, post-secondary institutions such as Cape Breton University are at the cutting edge when it comes to providing new programs and seamless transfer between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick’s college and university systems.

That said, the question of whether you should go to college or university—or both— remains confusing. “Students graduating from high school don’t understand the tremendous range of programs available to them,” says David Thomas, vice-president, academic, at Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo, B.C. “The system for informing high school students of their choices has not kept up with the times.” But students who take the time to understand the plethora of new options offered by college degrees or new college-university partnerships are already reaping substantial benefits. Says John Walsh, vice-provost of the University of GuelphHumber, a hybrid college-university on Humber College’s suburban Toronto campus: “These students are getting the most bang for their buck.”

Many are also getting good jobs, along with the rewards normally associated with traditional undergraduate educations, such as research awards and prime spots in bigleague graduate programs.

Meganjamieson attended Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., graduating in 1997 with a diploma in environmental engineering. She became one of four Georgian graduates to take advantage of a brand new agreement between the college and British Columbia’s Royal Roads University, one of many such agreements that enable Georgian students to apply their diploma toward bachelor of science degrees at a number of universities.

It worked well. “This was a bit backwards, choosing Georgian because it was practical, and then moving on to the theoretical,” Jamieson says. The Royal Roads undergraduate program—which enables students with college diplomas to complete a university degree in 12 straight months—was “really intense. Some people burned out. But I found I loved university.” She finished at the top of her graduating class, with a B.Sc. in environmental science, winning the Chancellor’s Award for best student in her cohort. And because she was comfortable with both

technical systems and concepts, she also landed a choice job with an international environmental organization. Says Jamieson: “This is a good balance for me, a good use of my whole education.”.

Tennica Hamilton, who graduated in 2006 with both a diploma in business administration and an honours bachelor in business administration from Guelph-Humber, calls her post-secondary experience “the best of both worlds.” She had applied to undergraduate programs at both York University and the University of Guelph but decided to attend the new hybrid in its first year of operation. “Getting both a university degree and a college diploma at the same time sounded even better,” she says. She liked that she’d be in small

classes. Plus, she could continue to live with her parents in Mississauga, Ont., while commuting to the Guelph-Humber campus on the outskirts of Toronto.


Her course combined an academic grounding in economics, law and business theory with hands-on practical work in accounting, organizational behaviour and project management. “It was amazing,” Hamilton says. She is currently being fast-tracked through the management trainee program at Blinds To Go (Canada) Inc. Some members of her graduating class are in similar sales and management training programs, while others have gone on to professional schools such as law and accounting. She says most of her classmates dream of earning their M.B.A.’s. “But we’re a practical group,” she adds, “We want to get our employers to help pay for them.”

Unlike some of his friends, Derek van Pel did not view Malaspina as the “safety school” that he’d attend only if he wasn’t accepted at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria. He applied and was accepted at all three schools, but chose to study biology at Malaspina because it was not only economical and convenient, but offered academic advantages. “I was born and raised

in Nanaimo, and I liked it. Also, I could live at home. This may sound silly, but it meant I didn’t have to hold down a part-time job and I could focus all my time and energy on my classes and I could do really well.” Malaspina, a university-college with 10,000 students, two-thirds of whom are enrolled in undergraduate degree programs, does not offer the depth and breadth of programs available at big research universities. “But what they do, they do very well,” van Pel says. “The people are fantastic. There are small classes. If you care, the professors care; you get as much face time as you want.” For that reason, van Pel decided to remain at Malaspina for all four years of his undergrad program, rather than switch to UBC or UVic for his third and fourth years.

He could thus take full advantage of the school’s new Applied Environmental Research Lab, working on what, at other universities, would be graduate-level research projects on the environmental application of mass spectrometry—and presenting his findings at a regional conference—while still in third and fourth years. Van Pel and two of his classmates applied for, and got, federal research funds to work at the lab over the summer. When they graduated, they were awarded three of NSERC’s $17,000 Canada Graduate Scholarships; one has chosen to study neurosciences at the University of Calgary, and another is doing graduate work in chemisty at UVic, while van Pel is now working on his Ph.D. in molecular biology at UBC—alongside former classmates who had transferred from Malaspina to UBC after second year. “So we have all ended up in the same place,” he says. “But, for me, getting here was a lot more fun.”

As is always the case with a new system, however, there are still a few bumps in the



road. You can’t always count on smooth sailing when moving between colleges and universities. British Columbia and the Atlantic provinces are by far the most advanced when it comes to inter-institutional agreements that allow seamless transfer, the experts say. Alberta is next in line. Ontario is making progress. For example, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, born of collaboration between Durham College and Peterborough’s Trent University, is now a standalone university offering “bridge” programs between college diplomas and degrees in commerce and criminology. Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, which spent years negotiating transfer agreements with East Coast community colleges, is now working on the next step: agreements under which graduates from a unique CBU honours degree program that integrates Aboriginal and Western scientific

traditions will be admitted to Dalhousie University’s medical school.

However, some universities are less than enthusiastic about accepting college bachelor degrees as qualifications for graduate schools or professional training programs. Take the case of Dave Cryderman, who graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Music degree in jazz studies from B.C.’s Capilano College. Cryderman applied to, and was rejected by, teachers’ colleges at four different Ontario universities, on the basis that Capilano— which previously awarded its degrees in partnership with B.C. Open University, now part of Thompson Rivers—is not recognized by the AUCC. This situation led to a hue and cry over post-secondary inconsistencies and has prompted educators to warn prospective college students to check to ensure that their choice of school and degree is properly accredited, and, if they intend to go to graduate school, will be recognized by universities. “Students have to do their homework,” says CBU vice-president of development Keith Brown. “They have to realize they can’t just do a college program and expect to go and do a degree anywhere.”

And yet at the pace this sector is evolving, today’s issues could be resolved by the time the class of 2010—or even, in the case of some college degrees, 2009—graduates. “The system is changing so quickly,” says Thomas from Malaspina. “When B.C. set up the university colleges, we didn’t think they would last forever. But nobody thought they’d be recognized as full-fledged universities in such a short time.” What’s more, the Cryderman case “has set off alarm bells across the country, and led to a national debate over the whole articulation and transfer issue,” which he thinks could well result in a much-needed national degree or institutional accreditation system. Guelph-Humber’s John Walsh thinks that as far as choices for today’s undergraduate students go, the trends are all in their favour. “Co-operation and collaboration are the trend, both in Canada and internationally,” he says. “The momentum may be building slowly, but the direction is inexorable.” M

UNIVERSITIES AND CEOS A look at where the chief executives of Canada’s 200 largest companies did their undergraduate degrees shows that, by and large, the biggest and oldest schools claim the most graduates. Keep in mind, however, that today’s crop of CEOs were in university a generation ago.

U OF T: 17 CEOs, McGILL: 15,



Dominic D'Alessandro (left),

CEO of Manulife Financial (Concordia). Source: Financial Post Business, Nov 5, 2005; additional research by Gloria Kim