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International Enrollments in the Certificate Program Space

It’s important to take a look at international students by listening to their needs, providing wraparound services and supporting students before their arrival, throughout their education and beyond.

The dream is a simple one: move to Canada, a country known for its beauty and inclusion, and build a bright and successful future. The process to achieving that dream, while more complicated than the dream itself, is worth the effort for many international students choosing their next steps. But what does that mean for higher education and more specifically Continuing Education within a higher-ed setting?

While pursuing international studies is not a unique path for traditional higher education, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of international professionals utilizing the path of Continuing Education, to gain a certification that augments or supports their existing studies while they transition to a life in Canada. And in a world where education can be available everywhere, quality becomes much more important when students assess the investment they are making in their future.

York University’s School of Continuing Studies (the School) is no stranger to the international student market. Being the first university-based Continuing Education unit in Canada to launch postgraduate certificate programs that support both domestic and internationally educated professionals, the School has been delivering exceptional education that meets the Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) requirements since its inception. 

With a familiarity and respect for the York University brand, not to mention the location of the campus, the School has been able to set, sustain and grow its international market. Additionally, by aligning with the university’s overarching strategic promise to create a community without limits with its own unique value proposition of delivering a guided path to a sustainable future, the School has created the success it has seen recently.

So, it is that easy? Build the programs, and the market will show up? No!!! Let me explain. 

Let’s start with content—the education. That’s what students are looking for, right?

At the School, this is not a quick and simple road. How we bring programs to market is very intentional. We are not here for the fast, easy education littering the market. Instead, we are focused on building programs with the students and their future success in mind. Ultimately, their goal is employment and growth, so the programs we build must have that mindset in the forefront.    

To achieve this, we ensure all our programs are:

  • Built with a purpose.
  • Market-driven.
  • Well researched and reviewed.
  • Designed with industry for industry.
  • Built and designed with the most successful methods and technology to serve the adult learner.
  • Delivered by industry experts.

But it is critical to remember that content and design are not the only success factors. Our students are human and, just like that purchase on Amazon or your recent trip to the grocery store, we need to consider how a human wants to be served.

Yes, I said, “served”!

The product is education, and the service is how we deliver that education: the experience. We must understand and deliver on our students’ needs inside and outside the classroom.  

Let’s take a step back for a second.

Imagine moving away from everything you have ever known.

Imagine moving across the world, potentially to a place you have never even visited.

Imagine leaving everyone who makes you feel whole.

Imagine not knowing.

Imagine the dream.

Imagine the journey.

Now, let’s also recall some of the recent news stories of so-called institutions bringing international students to study in a warehouse or plaza with not enough space and no vetted education? Imagine playing with someone’s life, their savings, their future. Imagine being the student who left behind everything for the dream of something better, only to arrive and find out the harsh truth of deception.

At the School, our recent success goes much deeper than education. We have built and continue to build our difference. An international student who chooses the School has access to our team from the minute they start to inquire about our programs to the first time they step foot on campus, throughout their studies and beyond. We are not just a classroom—we are a community.  

Ensuring we have wraparound services that support and guide the student experience at the School is critical. We prioritize how we serve—the full picture—from start to finish and beyond. For us at the School, that means:

  • Being available to students prior to their arrival
  • Providing an open door to advice through our recruitment, student services and partnered international service teams 
  • Access to the English Language Institute, which is built into the School and therefore directly aligned to pathways and support for students in the Professional Programs, when and if required  
  • Providing a warm welcome to the School during an orientation event on campus, which allows questions to be answered but also gives students a chance to get comfortable with the space and meet their peers  
  • Students are comfortable in a brand-new, state-of-the-art building as their base for learning and connection. The building designed for students with students is truly a home for learning and connection.
  • Students have access to trips and events, support services, industry experts, career services and more to help them build networks and community throughout their studies
  • After completion, the team at the School will continue to support through celebrating graduation and with continued Alumni resources including career services and mentorships

A model that serves a purpose and not just a need is one that shows resilience. In our case, not only did we weather the storm of the pandemic, but we also successfully grew enrollments, despite the restrictions the international market faced. If fact, in the 2022–2023 academic year, the year of returning to the norm, the School’s full-time professional programs saw close to 200% growth. That allowed us to get that many more students closer to their dream.

So, how did we do it? We served!

While students sign up for the education that will lead to the dream, they are also looking for the experience. That experience and support is in the institution’s hands.

Is there more to do? For sure. If that seems ironic, it is the epitome of Continuing Education. We will do more because we are always learning and listening to the needs inside and outside the classroom.

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