University vs College?

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The distinction between 2-year colleges and 4-year universities is becoming increasingly blurred, with the rise of polytechnics, collaborative and dual enrolment programs, postgrad certificates at university and applied degrees at colleges. (Sheridan College has not been coy about its ambitions to eventually become a university itself.) This week, Ken Steele’s conversation with Janet Morrison, president and vice-chancellor of Sheridan, concludes with an exploration of the differences and synergies between university and college.

Janet feels strongly that “this bifurcated lens on PSE in Ontario… really isn’t meeting the needs of learners today,” much less the needs of learners or the workforce of the future. “The system has to evolve” to ensure we are preparing students to be “agile, change-adept, resilient, independent, creative thinkers comfortable in a morphing space.”

Sheridan offers 26 four-year honours baccalaureate degree programs, with exceptional quality and university-equivalent rigor. All incorporate work-integrated learning, through co-op, placements, internships, capstone projects, and applied research – what a student called “the secret sauce” of a Sheridan education. Faculty members are actively engaged with industry, community, and NGOs to stay current. “What we’re doing is at the nexus of both a theoretical and a practical preparatory program, that positions students for work and life.”

Students already realize that they will be faced with an average of 11 career changes between ages 20 and 45; they will need skills and competencies to position them “as lifelong learners and adept, agile change-agents.” Higher ed will need to consider new approaches to credentialing and microcredentialing, to ease pathways for credit transfer between programs and institutions. At Sheridan, much attention is paid to pathways in, through, and out of the institution: fully one-quarter of Sheridan students arrive already having earned a university degree; there are 70 different pathways from Sheridan trades and certificate programs through degrees; and the Provost and Registrar often work with Sheridan grads to gain entry into graduate study. For 40 years, Sheridan has developed pathway agreements with universities in Canada and the US, but even graduates of Sheridan’s #1-ranked animation program still “don’t have unfettered access to graduate programming,” which suggests to Janet that the whole system needs “a rethink.” “If we expect students to navigate gray space… we have to do it too.” Janet also emphasizes the growing need to better develop global competency, and recognize the prior learning and life experience of international students.

Conversations about credit transfer, and a rethink of the PSE system, will be difficult and will demand courage and creativity. But Janet asserts, “if you position learning and learners at the centre, there’s far more alignment than you’d sometimes think.”

Dr Janet Morrison championed student success at York University for 17 years, ultimately as VP Students, before joining Sheridan College in 2016 as VP Academic, and 2 years later becoming Sheridan’s President. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in History and Education. (If you missed the previous parts of our conversation, see “Cultivating Creativity” at https://youtu.be/awH4WVFV-hcand “Mental Health & Student Success” at https://youtu.be/u3fHpn2Pt4A).

Every week, Ten with Ken shares innovations and bright ideas affecting higher education. To be sure you don’t miss it, be sure to subscribe! http://eduvation.ca/subscribe/

Special thanks to Sheridan College for the onsite videography. (If you would like to host an onsite episode of Ten with Ken, please see http://eduvation.ca/twk/site-visits/for more information.)

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