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Adaptation: Alberta’s Post-Secondary Schools Focus on More than Academics to Help Today’s Students Succeed

In 2018, The University of Alberta (U of A) had the most full-time undergraduate students (29,600), with the University of Calgary (U of C) a close second with 24,800.

In 2018, The University of Alberta (U of A) had the most full-time undergraduate students (29,600), with the University of Calgary (U of C) a close second with 24,800. MacEwan University came in third with 13,200 and Mount Royal, the University of Lethbridge (U of L), Concordia University of Edmonton, and The King’s University, respectively, rounded out slots 4-7. However, there is another very large and active university that had 0 full-time graduate students: Athabasca University. In 2018 Athabasca University had 38,950 part-time undergraduates and 4,500 part-time graduates. For comparison, the next highest on the list for part-time undergraduate students is MacEwan University (1,990).

The gaps in numbers have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the education and everything to do with the range of choices available to today’s students.

Athabasca University’s programs are flexible and online, catering almost exclusively to the students that need to fit education around work and family. Another college with flexible programs is Northern Lakes where courses are offered in a classroom, online, unscheduled (students log in and complete modules on their own time) or blended among class/online/unscheduled.

The University of Alberta is renowned as one of the top five universities in Canada and is in the top 150 universities worldwide. MacEwan University has an outstanding reputation for the study of Fine Arts while The King’s University offers private, Christian post-secondary education. Then there is Olds College where all the programs, from business to tourism, fashion design to horticulture, centre on advancing the agriculture industry.

The takeaway here is that in Alberta, post-secondary students have choices. The range of institutions and their specializations mean it’s easier than even to choose among full-time, part-time, continuing education, virtual education, and apprenticeships in environments that are geared toward technology, inclusivity, accessibility, and innovation.

Here are just a few of the ways some of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions have adapted to meet students’ needs:

Social Awareness, Inclusivity and Support
Universities are striving to promote understanding and respect across cultures, and to right some historical wrongs.

Bow Valley College, along with the Iniikokaan Centre and the City of Calgary, host an annual Indigenous showcase and traditional Pow Wow; and many universities, including U of A, U of C, and MacEwan University have prayer/spiritual reflection/multi-faith rooms where students can worship on campus, or engage in meaningful conversations with other students and teachers about their faith.

Like most of the post-secondary institutions in Alberta, the U of L acknowledges the grave injustices done to Canada’s Aboriginal population through residential schools, racism, and marginalization. According to a statement on the U of L website, “Educational institutions in particular have a crucial role to play in developing and implementing a process of truth and healing that explores the generational effects of residential schools, honours survivors’ resilience, and promotes reconciliation amongst Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. The U of L Truth and Reconciliation Committee… is developing a set of initiatives in support of the TRC recommendations to be designed and undertaken in collaboration with a range of University and community representatives and partners.”

Science and Technology
On May 10 of this year, Concordia University of Edmonton officially opened the Allan Wachowich Centre for Science, Research, and Innovation. The 30,000 square foot facility (valued at over $16 million) includes the Centre for Innovation and Applied Research, which transitions scientific breakthroughs to viable businesses. Also included is the Institute for Psychological Research and Services, the Indigenous Knowledge and Research Centre, a research presentation facility for public health, and research labs to support the city’s scientific community.

The University of Alberta is in a joint partnership with Edmonton Economic Development Corporation to operate and support TEC Edmonton, an accelerator for emerging technology-based businesses in Edmonton.

Direct Employer Engagement and Hands on Training
Not everyone chooses university. Colleges and technical institutions provide vital education and are leading the way in developing Alberta’s workforce.

NorQuest College’s Workforce Advisory Council, the Alberta Aboriginal Construction Careers Centre and the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation Hospitality Institute rely on real-time input and engagement with employers and physical hands-on training, so students learn the hard and soft skills employers are actively seeking.

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) have robust rosters of continuing education programs and apprenticeships. These allow students to upgrade, transition into new careers, or even just take college-level courses for pure enjoyment – all on a schedule that accommodates work and family.

For example, a university graduate with an MBA that is working full-time in business could work their way through non-certificate courses in pastry making or blacksmithing. Learning does not always have to be career-focused. Learning for enjoyment enriches your life in all aspects, and today’s post-secondary institutions are catering to that need too.

Post-secondary schools are collaborating to make studies easier for students that don’t live in Alberta. Ambrose University in Calgary and Horizon College (Saskatoon) have recently agreed that some Horizon courses will transfer into the Ambrose Bachelor of Theology degree.

Modern Options for Modern Students
The older model of post-secondary education was to go to college or university right after high school, stick with one career for many years, then retire. Today’s students have something much different in mind. They want to explore the cultures and beliefs of their fellow students. They want to have more than one career path. They want to integrate technology into their learning environment. They need flexible options to learn full-time, part-time, or online. They leverage support such as research facilities and accelerators to help them grow new and exciting businesses. The modern student doesn’t see post-secondary education as a stepping stone – they see it as part of their social, environmental, and lifestyle makeup; and universities and colleges across the province are more than happy to comply.