Queen’s grads head to college

An increasing number of university graduates enroll in college programs to gain professional skills

More Ontario university graduates are enrolling in college.
More Ontario university graduates are enrolling in college.

In 2012, Justin Andrews decided that university and law school weren’t for him.

Enrolled at Queen’s for two years until he transferred across town to St. Lawrence College, Andrews said he could no longer see a future job coming out of the philosophy degree he was pursuing.

“Even the guidance counselors at Queen’s couldn’t tell me what I could do with my degree,” he told the Journal via email.

Instead, Andrews left Queen’s to study culinary management at St. Lawrence. For him and many students, education hasn’t stopped at university — it’s become more popular to attend college after receiving a degree, or even before.

From 2008-13, there was a 40 per cent increase in Ontario university graduates going to college, according to the Globe and Mail.

In closer contact with his professors, Andrews said he found college to be a more practical approach to learning.

“There were much smaller class sizes, making it much easier to learn hands on,” he said. “At Queen’s, I was a number in a large class. At St. Lawrence, I was Justin.

“Different strokes for different folks,” he added, “but personally, switching to college was the best thing I ever did.”

For Morgan Hicks, ArtSci ’12 and a graduate of the sport and event marketing program at George Brown College, furthering her education had been on her mind since her second year at Queen’s.

While at Queen’s, Hicks met with college professors about entering the field of marketing, she said, “but I found that I would need more education if I were to enter that workplace.”

Hicks said she found the homework and assignments at George Brown similar to university, but the learning environment and grading were the differentiating factors.

While university was more challenging and harder to get better grades, she said, the relationships she had with professors in college helped her achieve higher marks.

“College was a lot more engaging and practical than university,” Hicks said.

“It’s becoming more mainstream to go to college,” she added, “and people are realizing that these smaller class sizes, intimate relationships with professors and the applicability are far more significant than the university experience in some cases.”

With 24 colleges and 20 publicly funded universities in Ontario, students have a wide range of options for higher education.

Christopher Knapper, professor emeritus of psychology at Queen’s, said university is best for students eager to learn for its own sake, while those looking to gain applicable knowledge, specifically in the trades, should enroll in college.

“Colleges are preparing people for specific careers,” Knapper said, “while universities are there to provide a general education and are much less career-oriented.”

Both universities and colleges have their value, Knapper added, and many students now go to both — university first, followed by college to learn a particular skill.

Seven to 10 per cent of students that enroll at St. Lawrence College already have a university degree, and close to 15 per cent say they plan to go to university after graduation.

Glenn Vollebregt, president and CEO of St. Lawrence, said students are starting to ask about career options, earning potential and what their return on investment will be when considering postsecondary programs.

“They need to decide what it is in their heart that they want to pursue and go into it with an open mind, whether it be in university or college,” he said.

Vollebregt said there’s a need for both universities and colleges, adding that St. Lawrence has partnered with Ontario universities to transfer certain credits between institutions.

“We’ve been trying to do this to give students a theoretical knowledge as well as a real world experience applied learning,” he said, “and come out with the best of both worlds.”

By combining learning methods from universities and colleges, Vollebregt said St. Lawrence and other colleges are trying to adhere to feedback from their students.

“As an institution we need to listen to our students,” Vollebregt said, “and they’re telling us what they want by travelling through both university and college.”

Vollebregt, who graduated from Georgian College with an accounting degree and England’s University of London with a Master’s in public policy and management, said both university and college were challenging.

Higher education must have different types of educational institutions, he added, and to say one is better than the other isn’t true.

“It depends where the student is with life, what their dreams are and what kind of skills they want to gain,” Vollebregt said.

Studying communications, for instance, wasn’t helping Chris Roswell gain the skills he wanted. After entering first-year at the University of Ottawa in 2011, Roswell left the next year to study accounting at St. Lawrence.

College is different from university in that professors may not have a Master’s degree, Roswell said — but their years of work experience in a specific industry helps when they’re teaching courses.

Being familiar with both postsecondary options, Roswell said the two can’t be compared.

“I once thought that university was better than college,” he said, “but you can’t do that. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.”

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