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Credit transfer heats up in Ontario

A new agency and institution-by-institution changes are first steps.


Over the next few years, Ontario students could find it easier to transfer from college to university and among the various institutions, if proposed changes to Ontario’s credit-transfer system take effect. An early step comes this March, when the College University Consortium Council will be wound down and officially replaced with the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer, or ONCAT. The new agency, established by the Ontario government last year, will have a much broader mandate to develop new transfer opportunities for postsecondary students in the province, said Maureen Callahan, executive director of the outgoing CUCC.

While CUCC mainly facilitated the transfer of students from colleges to universities, ONCAT will also try to smooth the way for students to move from universities to colleges, from one college program to another, and from one university program to another, said Dr. Callahan. Last year the province allocated $73.7 million over five years to support the development of a new credit-transfer system. Some of the funds were awarded directly to institutions to provide orientation programs for transfer students, to appoint on-campus transfer advisers and to introduce new credit-transfer policies. It’s hoped the changes will lessen the need for repeated courses by transfer students, allowing them to complete their studies sooner.

The new system is expected to include more articulation agreements like those in Alberta and British Columbia that allow students to complete their first two years of an undergraduate program at a college and then transfer to a university, said Bonnie Patterson, president of the Council of Ontario Universities. But noting that Ontario colleges and universities have more than 500 bilateral and multilateral agreements in place that provide advanced standing for college-transfer students, she said, “At the same time, we don’t want to throw out what’s working very well.” As a result, Ontario will probably have “more of a hybrid model because we don’t want to disadvantage students that are already in well-articulated programs and programs that are successful.”

The current system is highly fragmented. Speaking at a recent conference at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Christine Arnold, a PhD candidate at OISE, noted that when Ontario’s college system was formed in 1967, no transfer provisions were put in place to allow students to move seamlessly from college to university. Numerous studies and reports have since called for improved student mobility – the most recent of these being the report by economist Don Drummond on reforming Ontario’s public service – but for students, the system remains “a bitter game of snakes and ladders,” she said. While many transfer agreements are in place, no two look alike, and students struggle to make sense of which credits count where. The provincial government estimates that about 4,000 college graduates transfer to universities every year.

Universities have started taking steps to improve the situation. Algoma University, based in Sault Ste. Marie, has just introduced a new policy designed to simplify its credit-assessment process for college students. College graduates with a two-year diploma who achieved a grade-point average of at least 3.0 will receive 45 credits towards an undergraduate degree from Algoma; those who have completed a three-year diploma will receive 60 credits. Until now, college transfer students earned credits based on individual course-by-course comparisons. The University of Guelph has established a working group to look for ways to increase its enrolment of college-transfer students. The group plans to recommend changes to Guelph’s internal admissions procedures affecting prospective transfer students and to make the process easier and smoother. “Right now it’s very difficult for students to move credits,” acknowledged Maureen Mancuso, U of Guelph provost and vice-president academic.

The group will also look at whether it is viable to introduce an accelerated three-year honours undergraduate degree and a one-year accelerated master’s degree for all students, not only for college transfer students. This part of its work is exploratory, said Dr. Mancuso, and the focus will be to gauge student interest in these programs. It will start by looking at accelerated programs offered by universities in other provinces and other countries and the level of student demand for them, said Brian Pettigrew, U of Guelph assistant vice-president, institutional research and planning, who chairs the working group.

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  1. Jim Mars / February 29, 2012 at 16:26

    There is no evidence or justification for reducing the length of undergraduate degrees in Ontario only a decade or so after the length of

    a secondary education in Ontario was reduced from

    5 to 4 years (“the elimination of Grade 13”).

    While many European countries have three-year bachelor’s programs, their secondary education systems are quite different, and often their

    high school students score higher than Canadian students on international tests of academic

    proficiency–although one can always question the usefulness of such inter-cultural testing.

    The Bologna Declaration which has been designed to standardize undergraduate and graduate degree program lengths in many countries in Europe has no doubt increased the popularity of three-year undergraduate degrees there. The Bologna schema INCLUDES THE THREE YEAR FIRST DEGREE IN A 3 + 2 SYSTEM IN WHICH HIGH-LEVEL, RESEARCH CAPABLE, PROFESSIONAL PREPARATION REQUIRES THE TWO-YEAR MASTER’S DEGREE TO GO WITH THE THREE YEAR BACHELOR’S DEGREE. The process leading to the Declaration recognizes that other systems, such as those in North America, exist, and provide direct entry to doctoral studies for students with four-year degrees, but not for students with three-year degrees from Europe.

    Those three-year graduates need to complete a Master’s degree before commencing doctoral studies.

    So if Ontario were to switch to a 3 + 1 system,

    it would not fit professional streams such as architecture, engineering, and urban planning, and would require students to complete at least 4 years of undergraduate plus master’s work in order to begin doctoral studies. A three-year

    degree in general arts and sciences means a student could claim they hold a bachelor’s degree, but would not leave open to the students all the possible career routes which a four-year degree system provides.

    For the professional fields, in which accreditation or recognition of the degree for professional membership or licensure is done by legislation-mandated professional bodies, a 3 + 2 system would be required to replace current schemes which involve 4 or 5-year integrated bachelor’s degrees or the combination of a 4-year undergraduate degree with a 1 to 2-year master’s degree whose length depends on the appropriateness of the contents of the undergraduate degree.

    This is not the time to handicap Ontario students by granting them bachelor’s degrees which cannot directly lead to professional work nor to doctoral studies.

    James H. Mars, MRP, PhD, RPP, MCIP

    Professor Emeritus

    School of Urban and Regional Planning

    Ryerson University

    [email protected]