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Business Education Colleges and universities drop barriers for students seeking best of both worlds

Katie McLellan is an undergraduate business student at Algoma University who is putting her past college credits toward her new degree.

Megan Parlowe/Handout

When dental hygienist Katie McLellan decided to switch careers in 2016, she signed up for an undergraduate business degree at Algoma University in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Earlier, she had earned a liberal arts diploma from Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology – the other postsecondary institution in town – and counted some of her past courses toward her current university studies.

Ms. McLellan, 29, who enters her final year at Algoma this fall, says her education experience to date blends the best aspects of college (applied learning) and university (theory and thinking skills).

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“It allows you to have your cake and eat it, too,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you?”

That’s also the question asked by a growing number of postsecondary institutions that now look to smooth pathways for students who migrate between college and university to earn their credentials.

For example, under new agreements signed this year, Algoma and two regional colleges in Ontario, Sault and Timmins-based Northern College, are able to maximize course credit recognition at the respective institutions instead of leaving students to navigate their own path to a diploma or degree. Starting in May, qualified graduates of selected two-year college diploma programs, including business, can transfer to study at Algoma for two years and earn a university degree.

“The more barriers you put up for students, the less likely you are to attract them to your programs to be able to help them succeed,” says Donna Rogers, academic dean at Algoma. “We are trying to remove barriers.”

With the new agreements, she adds, “a student starting in Sault or Northern will know from the very beginning this is an option for them.” As a result, students could shorten the time to earn a diploma or degree because they don’t have to repeat previous course content.

Dr. Rogers says that Algoma is “in preliminary conversations” to extend similar pathway agreements to other northern Ontario colleges, which deliver the same business curriculum as Sault and Northern.

Agreements like those between Algoma and its college counterparts are on the rise, says Denise Amyot, president and chief executive officer of Colleges and Institutes Canada. In 2014, her organization and Universities Canada, the national organization for universities across the country, signed a “framework” agreement to promote student mobility among postsecondary institutions.

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Historically, students in some provinces, especially Ontario, faced barriers to recognition of past course credits when transferring between colleges and universities. The new reality of postsecondary education, notes Ms. Amyot, is that 47 per cent of those enrolled in colleges and institutes have attended some postsecondary institution and 34 per cent of enrolled students already have a degree or diploma.

To skeptics of college-university pathway agreements, Ms. Amyot asks: “’Are you doing the best for those students?’ At the end of the day we need to think about the students.”

One institution eager to work with its college counterparts is Niagara University, a private Catholic university in Lewiston, N.Y., on the Canada-United States border.

In an agreement announced last February by Niagara and Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont., qualified graduates of two business programs will be eligible to apply for an MBA at the U.S. university this fall.

“There was an opportunity for advanced standing for our students so they would receive recognition for courses they had completed at Conestoga,” says Jeff Fila, director of academic initiatives and special projects at the college. As well, the two institutions are about a 90-minute drive from each other, presenting a “relatively nearby option” for Conestoga students, according to Mr. Fila.

Niagara, which has offered graduate teacher education in Ontario for decades under ministerial consent of the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, recently announced a permanent site to deliver these programs at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre in suburban Toronto.

“We very much value the quality of programs in Ontario at the universities and the colleges,” says Vince Rinaldo, director of Ontario administration/academic affairs at Niagara. “With Conestoga students, on completion of their [four-year Conestoga] degree they can move right into the [Niagara] MBA and they will already have met the prerequisite requirements.”

According to the Ontario government’s Post-secondary Education Quality Assessment Board, the university is seeking ministerial consent to deliver an MBA, a master of science in finance and a master of science in information security and digital forensics in Vaughan. If the ministerial consents are approved, students could take business classes in Vaughan without travelling to Niagara’s Lewiston campus.

Dr. Rinaldo says his university’s proximity to the Canadian border remains an asset given the appetite for global trade. “People who are looking into business and saying I would like to get into international business ... don’t necessarily have to go to Europe or Asia,” he says. “The U.S. is international.”

Creating global learning opportunities was one reason why Manitoba’s Red River College and India’s Chitkara University agreed last January to promote overseas studies at their respective institutions. By 2021, Indian students could come to Red River for a two-year business information technology diploma while college students could head to India to complete a university degree.

“India is a huge and emerging market and from a postsecondary perspective there are a lot of similarities between Canadian and Indian institutions,” says Christine Watson, vice-president of academic at Red River. “We find there is a lot of neat alignment in approaches to applied learning in India; with Chitkara in particular [it is] one of the great opportunities for us to look at those connections with industry.”

Closer to home, the Manitoba college has an established relationship with the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business that allows qualified Red River graduates with two years of business studies to transfer into third-year undergraduate classes at Asper.

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Asper recently added to the number of designated seats for Red River graduates, says Dr. Watson, in part because they enter the university with two years of college-level business studies. “It does give them a significant head start in understanding the business world and they already are absolutely immersed in the applied nature of that world,” she says.

Pathway agreements can also assist college-educated working professionals whose employers want them to return to school to upgrade knowledge and skills, she notes, with relevant past academic credentials counting toward future degrees or diplomas.

Meanwhile, Algoma student Ms. McLellan, set to graduate next year, says the combination of college and university studies helped her identify the career of her choice, likely one with a human resources focus in business.

“The skills you can put together from both institutions [college and university] are invaluable,” she says. “I really think it is the best route to take and you will get the most out of it.”

Follow Jennifer Lewington on Twitter @JenLewington or contact her at jlewington@bell.net.

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