Ottawa Citizen

More Al­go­nquin stu­dents stick it out

Amid year of ex­pan­sion, pres­i­dent mea­sures success in see­ing stu­dents through to grad­u­a­tion

- MATTHEW PEAR­SON mpear­son@ot­tawac­i­t­i­ Twit­­son78

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.

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