Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Highly mobile students want flexible learner pathways

A recent Globe and Mail story highlighted the growing trend for post-university students to attend college.

This is true in BC as much as for the rest of Canada.

I briefly mentioned student mobility in an earlier post about learner pathways. Today I'd like to share some hard numbers, and for those data we are fortunate to be able to refer to BC's excellent Student Transitions Project [PDF summary].

According to that research, between the 2007/08 and 2008/09 academic years, a large number of students (4,000) moved from BC colleges and institutes into one of the major research universities, such as UBC, SFU and UVic. This is not surprising.

What is perhaps surprising is that approximately 3,300 students moved in the opposite direction: from major universities to colleges and institutes. This means that about 3/4 as many students transfer from research universities to colleges and institutes as from colleges and institutes to research universities. A further 3,800 students switched between institutions within the college/institute sector.

One more interesting fact about the BC system: traditional "transfer students" entering major research universities represent fewer than 20 percent of all student movers, a number that is showing a declining trend.

For Douglas, the Student Transitions Project also reports that while over 600 students transferred from Douglas to research universities, approximately 450 students moved from research universities to Douglas. That is to say that Douglas receives about 3/4 as many students from research universities as we send. Further, Douglas received and sent approximately 200 students from/to other BC colleges in that year - largely Langara and VCC.

In addition, from the Fall 2010 survey of all Douglas students [PDF], our Office of Institutional Research and Planning tells us that half of our students self-reported some previous post-secondary education. This education covers the spectrum from a single course elsewhere, to completion of a one-year certificate or a two-year diploma, to, in the case of five per cent of our students, a university degree. The number of degree holders at Douglas will increase as we offer more post-degree credentials.

What explains these trends? A major factor in BC is our flexible transfer system, which is the envy of post-secondary systems around the world. Also, high quality degree programs at the new teaching-intensive universities (Kwantlen, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island, Capilano) as well as at the metropolitan colleges (Douglas, Langara, Camosun, and VCC) make transfer from research universities more attractive.

The point is that our student population is highly mobile, and increasingly so. Clearly, they want multiple options for entering and exiting programs at different institutions. They want the flexibility to pursue a learning pathway that works for them.

These trends give us confidence that our Vision 2015 goal of becoming a premier learner pathway institution is a sound strategy.

At Douglas College, we're focused on giving students even more mobility and flexibility. We're restructuring ourselves to better facilitate transitions and laddering between programs. That means between our own programs, and between our programs and programs elsewhere, as both a sending and a receiving institution.

As our student data shows, we're already a receiving institution. And as we increasingly demonstrate our leadership in building a learner pathway institution, I expect that we'll welcome more than our fair share of students from other institutions.



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