How Partnering with Continuing Studies Improves Degree Relevancy
Universities have been increasingly challenged regarding how applicable traditional academic offerings are to our increasingly modern world. There is a contentious and growing view of a university’s role in creating career-ready graduates, yet educators such as David Helfand caution that, “we shouldn’t conflate education and training, that a university education ought to be about learning to think not about acquiring a set of employable skills”. Unfortunately, the transition between academic study and an entry-level role in a career can prove challenging for new graduates. They have all of the skills (and more) to easily succeed in beginning their professional career, but they just don’t know how to harness them.
During my time working as a server while completing a master’s degree in history, I was constantly asked, “What are you going to do with that?” While I found this question discouraging, over time as I reflected upon my education, my answer evolved into, “I can do anything.”
My passion for my job as a program manager comes from my experience in the 14 months that I worked in a restaurant after obtaining my MA. I tried to network; I tried to figure out how to integrate into a professional space after spending so long in academia, but there was a piece missing for me. Today, I manage eight one-year post-degree diplomas. Our programs include a required four-month practicum placement that enables students to practice what they’ve learned and, ultimately, make connections that enable them to continue their career in that industry.
Faculty/Continuing Education (CE) partnerships are the building blocks that construct a highly capable, career-ready graduate. Across Canada credit programming in CE is a mosaic in terms of admissions process, offerings and structure. Some CE units are faculties unto themselves whereas others, such as Western University, depend upon faculty partnerships to offer credit programming. Partnering with a faculty is a requirement for our programs. Building lasting relationships is not just a nice thing to do–it is vital for the survival of our programs. We have eight partnerships with five different faculties that enable us to offer a very high-quality educational experience to our students to the benefit of our department and our faculty partners.
According to Carolyn Young, Director of Western Continuing Studies (WCS), these relationships “give faculties the opportunity to partner with CE units on innovative programs that provide exposure to a variety of careers.” Furthermore, Young states that it is also “a way to connect with students that is extremely relevant to careers.”
A traditional experience in an undergraduate program provides students with a plethora of occupational skills: critical thinking, effective communication, advanced writing, research and so much more. Career skills and job readiness are the true symbiosis of CE and faculty partnerships. In reality, the strength of our partnerships is rooted in our differences.
According to Dr. Andrew Johnson, the Undergraduate Chair of the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at Western University, “There is a really good synergy between the FHS and WCS, in that WCS provides students with workplace-relevant skills that are grounded in the here and now, while FHS teaches students theoretically grounded and process-oriented skills that will help them stay current in a dynamic and changing work environment.”
By combining these two skill sets, we have seen one-year post-graduate employment rates in the low- to mid-90-percent range over the past five years.
Building upon the theoretical education undergraduate students receive, CE units have the ability to provide applied, specialized, industry-specific educational programs that leverage the knowledge of working professionals and work-integrated learning opportunities. The skills acquired in degree programs create a solid foundation that CE units can build upon to create an exceptionally prepared graduate.
Networking is one of the key examples of a skill that students may not learn or acquire in undergraduate study, but which is encouraged and developed within many CE programs. “Employers tend to hire those within their network, or those recommended by a trusted colleague,” said Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice-President of Human Resources at Indeed. “Many professional roles require a university degree but it’s relevant work experience that matters most in today’s job market”.
One important message that I impart to the senior students who are considering applying to one of our programs is that they already have everything they need to be marketable to an employer. We simply teach them how to use it and help them develop a network in a specific industry.
The strength in the faculty partnerships that we continue to nurture doesn’t necessarily stem from relationship management or data, but rather from our graduates. Our combined accomplishments speak for themselves as we continue to provide a space for students who begin their education in non-career-based programs to find a professional space that fulfills their passion.
 David Helfand quoted in Erin Millar, “The Expectation Gap: Students’ and Universities’ Roles in Preparing for Life after Grad,” The Globe and Mail (2014) https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/the-expectation-gap-students-and-universities-roles-in-preparing-for-life-after-grad/article21187004/
 Career Get Go quoted in Don Pittis, “Despite Low Unemployment, Young People Say Finding a Job as Difficult as Ever” CBC News (2018) http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/jobs-students-employers-1.4525127
 Paul Wolfe quoted in Arti Patel, “Jobs You Can Get With These Common University Degrees,” Global News (2018) https://globalnews.ca/news/3961573/common-university-degrees/
Author Perspective: Administrator