More Algonquin students stick it out
Amid year of expansion, president measures success in seeing students through to graduation
You might think Algonquin College president Kent MacDonald would say the opening of a brand new campus in Pembroke or a much-needed student commons at the Ottawa campus is the college’s single most important achievement in 2012.
The two buildings cost a combined total of $88 million and are both a hit with students and staff, yet MacDonald says Algonquin’s greatest success over the past year lies in its retention rate, which has climbed in recent years.
“In the past, we’ve always tried to measure our success on how much are we growing, whereas we need to shift that conversation from access to attainment,” MacDonald said.
“It’s only when (students) graduate that they accrue the benefits of going to college.”
About 77 per cent of students moved from first to second year in 2011-2012, up from 74 per cent in 2009-2010.
Opening the doors to a diverse array of students — including many new Canadians or those whose parents didn’t go to college or university, and providing the supports necessary to see them through to graduation strikes at the heart of what community colleges should be all about, MacDonald said.
A shaky economy, changing industry needs and shifting student demographics all contributed to making the past year a challenging one for the increasingly competitive postsecondary education sector, where a bachelor’s degree is now widely seen as the new high school diploma.
Colleges Ontario wants the province to allow the 24 community colleges it represents to offer threeyear degrees, as many U.S. states and other countries do.
Such a move would satisfy the many students who are interested in the career-focused programs offered by colleges but who want a degree rather than a diploma.
Although MacDonald supports such a notion, he admitted some in the university sector might feel colleges are nibbling at their turf.
But it goes both ways — while colleges are demanding the ability to offer more credentials, universities are working harder than ever to infuse programs with hands-on training, such as co-op placements and overseas exchanges.
Other reforms to the college system are long overdue, MacDonald said.
Ontario has to make it easier for students to transfer schools instead of forcing them to repeat courses and thus delaying their entry into the workforce.
“We need to get that addressed in a much more aggressive and serious way,” he said.
He added the cost of post-secondary education in its current state is unsustainable. The sector should harness technology better to create efficiencies and avoid downloading more costs onto cash-strapped students, MacDonald said.
By offering some courses online, Algonquin, for example, currently has 3,000 more full-time students than its campus footprint is built to accommodate.
There are no major building projects on Algonquin’s agenda for 2013.
Instead, MacDonald says the college will renew its commitment to applied learning by ensuring that all students have some type of handson experience to prepare them for the workforce.
Online learning will continue to grow, as will the college’s international footprint. Algonquin already has programs in China, India, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia, and has plans for further expansion.