Nov 30, 2008

U of W urged to hike college credits

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Shawna Labadie has experienced a sense of deja vu since beginning studies for her psychology-related courses at the University of Windsor this year.

"I'm sitting in class now and I'm thinking, I already know all this," the first year student said. "I remember I've already covered the (study material) and now, here I am, redoing it."

That's because Labadie is a former, straight-A student from the three-year early childhood development program at St. Clair College. After receiving her diploma she decided she would pursue her studies at the University of Windsor and shoot for a degree.

But after applying, she was told all of her studies at St. Clair were worth only four credits at the university. She would, basically, have to go back to the starting line.

That's a discouraging dilemma that potentially hundreds of other community college students hoping to pursue university studies face every year, says Shelagh Towson, a University of Windsor professor.

Towson is heading the Smoothtrack program for the provincial Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in a bid to make transfers between post-secondary institutions less difficult.

"So many are blocked," Towson said in an interview after addressing the University of Windsor's board of governors. "The students don't understand and their parents don't understand. They get slotted into a certain path and they're stuck. They find out too late the door to university is closed."

Towson said that Labadie's experience is a case in point. After thoroughly reviewing the material she covered at St. Clair College Towson said she was convinced the student should have gotten at least 10, perhaps as many as 18, credits. Instead, her studies were afforded relatively little value.

"It was a three-year, nine-semester program," said Towson. "It was a very intense program and she had the grades, graduated with 85 per cent. But she was short-changed."

Labadie agreed: "I knew I wouldn't get what I deserved," she said. "If I got 10 credits I'd accept that. But I'll be 30 when I start building a career."

Towson told the board of governors that it's in the university's best interest to "smoothtrack" the process. She said many students when faced with such obstacles end up pursuing their educations across the river in Michigan, where, she said, their college studies are more readily accepted and are given greater value.

If not for the higher cost of an American university education and the inability to secure student loans, many more would go to the US. She told the board that, given the financial situation Canadian universities find themselves in, they cannot afford to pass on enrolment.

Labadie agreed, saying she looked into Michigan universities and learned she would have easier access. But she could not afford the move because of her need for student loans.

Towson said the province's post-secondary system is stuck in a 1970s mindset and it is not recognized that colleges of applied arts and technology now offer varied and in-depth courses at a very high level. When seeking admission to university, they are subjected to arbitrary evaluations, she said.

"Some students may get 10 credits and others four," she said. "And they're from the same course."

Towson said agreements to facilitate transfers must be negotiated between colleges and universities, resulting in evaluations from program to program. She added the process could begin by having the issue referred to the university's senate for further study.

"You would be attracting good students and possibly getting $5 million to $10 million in revenue," Towson said. "Increasing accessibility is the right thing to do if we are committed to social justice. If you have the will you can increase the number of transfers and students choosing the University of Windsor."

University president Alan Wildeman told Towson he was "of the mindset" to arrange meetings with his college counterparts and to bring the issue to university committees for further study.

He suggested that the university senate might be one area to begin, since the issue requires "academic consideration."