Bridging to University: Collaborating with Colleges
Bridging programs that allow access to university education for students who are unable to gain direct entry are not new, although the names—bridging, pathway or articulation—may be relatively recent.
My father’s life was transformed by one such bridging program in the 1950s. My father was an excellent athlete, a runner, the City of Toronto 1-mile and 2-mile champion in the early 1950s. However, for various reasons he failed to successfully complete his last year of high school, which severely limited his prospects. He was talented, gregarious, and clearly had unrealized academic potential. He had a strong desire to become a teacher but no regular teacher’s college would admit him to their one-year program given his final high school year performance. But there was one college that offered a two-year program that provided a second chance. He took this opportunity and excelled. Subsequently, he earned a bachelor’s degree. He did this by night and summer courses while working and raising three children! This gave him the standing to pursue two other degrees. Clearly he was capable and fortunately he was provided a pathway to success. He did become a teacher for over thirty years, becoming an expert on learning disabilities.
This story, although deeply meaningful for me personally, is not unique. I have heard many similar stories of individuals whose lives were changed because they were given a second chance to succeed.
This personal example reinforces my deep commitment to access to education at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and the desire to provide pathways for prospective students to come to university. This is a desire shared by many in the postsecondary education sector. Most of our students arrive by accepting an offer as part of a direct admission process largely based on high school performance. However, we are aware there are many whose high school performance may not reflect their true academic potential. How do we provide a way for these students to succeed at university?
We first examined why these prospective students are not succeeding at high school. A wide range of reasons has emerged. These include (but are not limited to) economics and the need to work part time while in high school, being part of traditionally underrepresented groups at universities including indigenous and racialized populations, and the lack of family experience with universities (“first in family”). We also recognize that the practice in some Ontario school boards of streaming students at an early age tends to systematically exclude these students from taking high school courses that are university prerequisites. Some of these factors affect some groups more than others. In addition, for individuals from any group, a less than stellar performance in high school may arise from a lack of clear purpose or lack of maturity, rather than a lack of potential. So, how do we include these groups?
Universities, in general, are not particularly proficient at helping students attain the standard needed to succeed at university. However, Ontario colleges have developed the curriculum and pedagogy to do so. Thus it is a natural evolution of the interfacing between colleges and universities to capitalize on this college strength. At UTSC we developed an articulation program with Seneca College that began in 2012. Although the results of this pathway have been relatively modest in terms of the number of students, with some 75 students taking part, the outcomes for these students have been positive. In fact, the average grades of students in this pathway at UTSC have been slightly higher than that of the campus as a whole. The first graduate of the program received her honours bachelor of science at UTSC’s 2017 convocation, graduating with the university’s recognition of High Distinction.
This fall we signed a similar articulation agreement with Centennial College, capitalizing on the proximity of one of its campuses (Morningside Campus) which is located on UTSC property. Thus, students in the articulation program have ready access to the UTSC campus and its facilities, enabling a smoother transition from college to university. The college portion of the programs consists of two years of study. However during those two years of study, up to 6.5 university credits are earned, allowing students to transition into university with over a year’s worth of credits. With a judicious choice of courses, it is possible to earn a university degree via this pathway in five years. In addition to this college-to-university transition, Centennial College also provides a “reboot” option for UTSC students. This is for those who began at UTSC but do not make sufficient progress at university in their first year to continue their studies successfully. These students can take advantage of the college program to assist them in developing the range of skills and approaches to learning needed for success at university. The two collaborations, with Seneca and Centennial, are specifically designed to meet the needs of the local UTSC catchment, particularly those who are part of traditionally underrepresented groups. We recognize that providing the pathway is only one aspect of encouraging university attendance and other programs of outreach, often in conjunction with the colleges and local high schools are needed. UTSC already has initiatives of this type for Black students and Indigenous students. We recognize that rural Ontario is also underrepresented at university and we are working on proposals to address this need.
These programs all arise from our deep commitment to making university education available to all who have the motivation and potential to benefit from it. This is an important part of our function as a publicly-funded university, and is reflected in the Statement on Diversity by the University’s Governing Council, which includes that: “We believe that excellence flourishes in an environment that embraces the broadest range of people, that helps them to achieve their full potential…”
Author Perspective: Administrator