Ontario to make it easier for students to switch schools
TheGlobeandmail.com – news/politics
Published Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. James Bradshaw
The Ontario government says it’s going to make it easier for postsecondary students to transfer credits from one school to another.
With that in mind, Queen’s Park will announce $73.7-million in funding over five years Monday to create more transfer opportunities and on-campus support for students. The government will set student mobility targets with each institution, and promise they’ll be met. The plan will also establish a centralized website co-ordinating the many existing agreements between schools.
The new system, a long-time priority for student advocacy groups, comes amid evidence of an increasingly mobile student body. According to a 2008 study led by University of Ottawa professor Ross Finnie, nearly half of college and university students across the country do not graduate from the program and school where they begin.
And the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario says the percentages of college students who proceed to a degree program, and of university graduates who enroll at colleges, have risen noticeably over the past decade.
Ideas to remove barriers between schools are not new. As education minister, Bill Davis raised the issue as early as 1967, and there are now more than 500 ad hoc transfer agreements between colleges and universities – with little to unify them until now. Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec already have centralized systems in place, which Ontario studied closely.
“We’re by no means starting from scratch here,” said John Milloy, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.
But until fairly recently, credit transfer was considered a minor issue in Ontario, partly because colleges and universities saw themselves as having distinct roles. Schools were, and still are, fiercely protective of their autonomy and standards, not to mention competitive.
With colleges offering more degree programs, a spirit of collaboration – driven by students –appears to be taking hold across the sector.
“I would definitely say the colleges and universities seem to be working more together,” said Jim Robeson, director of advocacy at the College Student Alliance, which has called for a transfer system for nearly a decade.
Centralization is expected to reduce headaches, ensure fewer students are paying to take courses they have effectively already completed, and keep the government from investing twice in those students.
Jenn Howarth, 25, knows those headaches well. She earned a diploma in public relations from Sudbury’s Cambrian College, worked two years in student government and advocacy, then decided to take business administration at an Ontario university.
But the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario both rejected her application, saying she had not taken Grade 12 high-school math, even though she excelled in business and accounting courses at Cambrian. Lakehead University accepted her, but refused to transfer any of her credits.
Feeling “kind of defeated,” she applied to Cape Breton University, which had a transfer agreement with Cambrian and recognized two years of college credits. As a result, her bachelor’s degree is taking two years rather than four, and she is pulling down “low to mid 90s” in finance courses.
“So many students get put off by applying to go from college to university,” she said. “There are so many redundancies.”
While most existing agreements are bilateral, Mr. Milloy expects more multilateral pacts will surface. And the Ministry will consult with each school to set and enforce “very aggressive targets” for adding more transfer arrangements and support systems, though individual admissions decisions will remain a school’s own domain.
“Boy, we’ve got to pick up the pace,” Mr. Milloy said. “So we’ll be holding their feet to the fire.”
Ultimately, the more agreements that are signed, the less students should notice them.
“Students really know what they want to do,” Mr. Milloy said, “and we should get out of their way.”
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