Friday, December 12, 2008

Stepping Stone Education

There have been many great changes in education since my days on campus. When I was 18, Ontario community colleges were a fairly new phenomenon. Even our guidance teachers weren't too clear about whether a community college diploma would mean anything. For sure we knew that no one would recognize a correspondence education or consider a privately managed college the equivalent of a college financed by the tax payers. When I worked in HR, the older the institution, the more substantial the weight of its name. Brock, Laurentian, Athabasca, York, Simon Fraser were babies offering degrees in weird things like women's studies or Canadian studies or any number of new concepts that seemed trendy - unmarketable, fly-by-night majors for the flower children of parents with too much money or too little practicality or so we thought. Young adults were used to being sorted out into categories - categories that kept you in your place. There were 2 year high school trades programs and 4 year programs that anticipated you'd settle in the area and 5 year university preparation courses with ways to flow down but with no options for late developers to flow upward.
Registered Nurses could get into a 3 year post RN degree program. There was a recognition that bright, poor girls from large families had the option of becoming RNs in order to finance the education that parents didn't want to invest in for a girl who'd probably stay home and raise a family anyway.
And with the arrival of community colleges, there were people like me who got a general B.A. in the arts or social sciences and then enrolled in community colleges for higher paying skills.
Today education is like a smorgasbord. With a little thought, a little research, asking a few right questions, creating a plan, it is possible to reap the advantages of choosing a bit of everything rather than being told if one wants steak and seafood, it is necessary to order the entire steak dinner and follow it up with the entire seafood dinner.
The institutions that are going to win are the ones that offer flexibility - have educational agreements with other institutions - know how to recognize what has already been learned and what is still required - have a plan for people to climb the steps to higher level certifications. The advantages also lie with those institutions which can quickly adapt themselves to the educational requirements for the 21st century - that offer those cutting edge courses which look like trends but are really the future. And the prestige will go to those who are recognizable names because employers can go to their open courses and see for themselves the quality of the lectures, the quality of the courses, the variety of delivery methods and learning tools imparted.
Let's not wax nostalgic about the past - the medieval model. It had a long, great run and I'm proud to have experienced it. Today is a whole new story - one with freshness, promise and choices we could never have even imagined.

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