A degree in three?

Fanshawe joins other provincial colleges in support of a renewed call for three-year degree programs

A RECENT POLL shows strong support for something Colleges Ontario has been pining over for nearly a decade: three-year college degrees.

An online survey of over 1,000 Ontarians this summer showed that 69 per cent of respondents were in favour of three-year degree programs, while 78 per cent supporting expanding the range of degree options at colleges more generally. Only six per cent of people indicated that they were opposed to the three-year degree idea.

“People clearly want to see students provided with more opportunities to fulfil their career ambitions,” says Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy voice for the province’s 24 colleges. “Providing more degree programs will help more graduates advance in their careers and earn higher salaries.”

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“At Fanshawe, we unlock the potential of our students, partners and the communities we serve through a promise to educate, engage, empower and excite in everything that we do,” says Gary Lima, Fanshawe’s senior vice president academic. “Expanding the degree programs offered at colleges will help us deliver on that promise by providing students with the specialized expertise sought by employers.”

Ontario’s colleges currently offer a mix of four-year degree programs, in addition to two- and three-year diplomas and a smattering of certificate and graduate programs.

Three-year degree programs have been a major proposal from Colleges Ontario since 2012, when they first proposed it to the provincial government amid consultation around higher education reforms; they were in support a year later when the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario backed their call. But, with very little support from Ontario’s university institutions, the idea of moving toward three-year degrees has gone nowhere.

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“This is something of a global anomaly,” Franklin wrote last year. “In most of the world, post-secondary programs that are essentially the same as our colleges’ three-year programs award degrees to graduates rather than diplomas … the government has every reason to approve the establishment of three-year degree programs at colleges as many of our three-year programs already align with the provincial standards for degree programs.”

“The degree is the credential best understood and recognized by employers,” president of the College Student Alliance, Tori Arnett, said last year. “College graduates who have fulfilled the provincial standards for a post-secondary degree should be awarded a degree.”

It all comes as colleges try to diversify and appeal to students as a career-opening option, in contrast to expensive university educations. Colleges Ontario is also asking the provincial government to approve increases to the number and range of four-year degree programs and the creation of technical master’s degree programs in things like robotics, cybersecurity and animation.

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This fall, Fanshawe also began offering “microcredentials,” targeting mature learners who want to upgrade their skills. They are not alone in this, as microcredentialing at both the college and university level has been tapped as a useful tool in covering the skills gap among students coming out of school and for producing graduates who come out of school looking at better career options.

“As Ontario rebuilds its economy, we must ensure students have every opportunity to enrol in programs that lead to rewarding careers,” Franklin says. “Expanding the career-focused degree programs will strengthen the workforce and promote a stronger economy.” A degree in three? Fanshawe Focus Kieran Delamont

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