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November 17, 2011

Increasing Educational Opportunities in Rural Communities

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From The Globe and Mail:

When it comes time to consider their post-secondary options, young people from small towns and rural areas often have little choice but to leave home and move to larger cities, where university campuses are typically found.

But Newfoundland resident Samantha Whitman wasn’t quite ready for that. Instead, she enrolled in a college-university transfer program at her local community college, the Grand Falls-Windsor campus of the College of the North Atlantic. “It’s a little bit closer to family and friends and it’s a little bit cheaper, too,” says the 23-year-old.

Once enrolled, she discovered other benefits of the program: the largest class in her first-year science program has fewer than 50 students. “The smaller class sizes make a big difference,” she says. “The teachers are really approachable and because it’s such a small class, it’s really easy to ask questions and get things clarified in class.”

Ms. Whitman will complete her first year at CNA. After that, she will move to Memorial University in St. John’s and complete the remaining three years of her Bachelor of Science degree. She hopes to pursue a career as a health-care professional, such as a midwife or a physician’s assistant.

Canadian colleges are working to introduce more university-transfer programs and other joint programs with universities. The Ontario government recently put in place a credit-transfer system to ease student mobility between the province’s colleges and universities. Under the system, college students receive either a block of credits or direct entry into second- or third-year degree programs at various universities.

The aim is to provide students with more options and to reduce the time and cost of repeating courses when they transfer from one institution to another, says Lane Trotter, senior vice-president academic at Fanshawe College in London, Ont.

The agreement will allow universities and colleges to take a more systematic approach to student transfer agreements rather than the piecemeal method they have been using, Dr. Trotter says. For the most part, colleges and universities have negotiated individual agreements.

Fanshawe, for example, has 420 agreements in place with Canadian and international universities, including 24 with Ryerson University, 38 with the University of Windsor, 32 with Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., and 43 with Australia’s Griffith University. That’s up from 297 agreements in 2009.

College-university transfer programs provide students with many benefits, Dr. Trotter says. Aside from the tuition savings, they can also offer an alternate route to students whose high school marks weren’t sufficient for direct entry into university. “The time at college gives the student more time to develop the necessary study skills that they may not have coming out of high school,” he says. “College provides them that time for maturation.”

In many cases, students decide to pursue a university degree after enrolling in a college program.

Fanshawe is also working with the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., to provide joint diploma and degree programs that would see students spending equal time at the two institutions. The schools have one program already in place — in media theory and production – and are negotiating another.

In Western Canada, where college-university transfer programs have been a common part of the post-secondary system for years, some colleges are introducing degree-completion programs. These allow students to graduate with a university degree while completing all required courses at a community college. The curriculum is set by the university and delivered by college faculty.

Alberta’s Red Deer College has 300 students in seven degree-completion programs, including bachelors in education, nursing, arts and social work. It plans to launch a business degree program next year in collaboration with Mount Royal University in Calgary, and is considering offering additional degree-completion programs in kinesiology and fine arts.

College president Joel Ward says Red Deer hopes to double the number of students in degree-completion programs over the next five years, calling it “the centrepiece of our strategy moving forward.”

Like university-transfer programs, degree-completion allows students to remain close to home and save money. They are also vital to the future prosperity of rural Alberta, Mr. Ward says. “We have many communities where folks, if they leave our community to finish their degrees and go to Calgary or Edmonton, they don’t come back,” he says.

“We need to be able to provide the same opportunity for learners as they do in the big cities.”

Jeanine Anderson, 22, is completing her fourth and final year of a Bachelor of science in nursing degree at Red Deer. The degree will be conferred by the University of Alberta, but Ms. Anderson will have completed all the course work at Red Deer, only an hour from her home in Three Hills, Alta.

“It’s such a nice environment,” she says. “The class sizes are much smaller. You get more one-on-one time with instructors” and hands-on clinical work, she says.

“I loved it,” says Ms. Anderson. “It’s been wonderful.”

The original article can be found in the Globe and Mail.

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