By Sharon Oosthoek
Special to The Toronto Sun
It is the year of the dreaded double cohort, and stories about panicked high school students applying for university and college out of province, and even to the United States, are making headlines across the country.
Grade 13 students graduate with Grade 12 students this June because of Ontario's decision to discontinue the fifth year of secondary school. While anxiety about the number of available postsecondary spots is riding high, 34 new applied degrees on offer this fall at Ontario colleges just might be the answer for some students.
Cindy Dundon Hazell, Seneca College's v-p. of academic, says the four-year applied degrees come at a crucial time for Ontario high school students.
"I think it's very fortunate it's happening at the same time. It's a solution, there's no question," she says.
Carolyn Ferreira, dean of Centennial College's school of business, agrees.
"Universities are going to be overwhelmed by applications. Hopefully, students will see this as a viable option, especially since it's a degree program. When people begin to see the value of the applied degree program, we'll be their first choice," Ferreira says.
Applied degrees have been available since the 1970s in Germany and the United States, and for about five years in Alberta and British Columbia. They are undergraduate bachelor degrees with an applied focus in a particular field, and are designed to prepare students to work in a profession while also earning a degree. What makes them different from traditional bachelor degrees is the applied, professional focus of the program, and the opportunity for work experience as part of the degree.
Bellnexxia network consultant Jennifer Leavitt says she would have seriously considered an applied degree if they'd been available when she graduated from high school in the 1980s. She says an applied degree might have allowed her to have a more direct career path.
Leavitt came to Bellnexxia with a bachelor of arts, a background in software sales, and a post-graduate diploma from Centennial's network specialist program.
Looking back, she says she might have been better served by studying in a program that combined the theoretical strengths of university with the job-ready skills students get in college -- exactly what applied degrees are designed to do.
That's why Leavitt joined a group of Centennial grads who recently helped to convince Ontario's Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to let colleges grant specialized applied degrees.
According to Humber College president Robert Gordon, Leavitt's story is not unusual. About one-quarter of Humber's freshman students are university graduates.
Gordon says the new applied degrees will allow students such as Leavitt to save time. Rather than getting a four-year university degree and a one-year college diploma, they can get the education they need in a single four-year applied degree.
"That's one of the fundamental reasons (for the applied degrees). The five years was ridiculous, both in terms of tax dollars and the student," he says.
Gordon says applied degrees are also a boon to employers. "Companies wish to know what they're getting. If you have a baccalaureate, they understand that worldwide. Whereas with a diploma, they don't," he says.
Seneca's Dundon Hazell says college educators and industry representatives have been asking for applied degrees in specific areas for 10 years now. Business and computer network systems are just two examples of industries eager for applied degree graduates.
Victor Garcia, managing principal for Hewlett-Packard's wireless and
enterprise mobility department, is certainly a fan of the applied degrees.
Garcia helped advise Centennial when it put together its proposal for an applied degree in computer and communications networking. He and his colleagues in the networking industry have long argued for a curriculum that teaches graduates both technical and people skills.
"We often find potential employees come to us with tremendous technical knowledge. But we find they have very, very few people skills. In a global economy, it's just as important to be able to communicate with potential customers, with peers and with employers, and that very often gets overlooked," he says. "If we're successful in producing graduates that have technical skills as well as soft skills, they'll be very marketable."
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