In tight times, transfer credits are a thrifty path to that degree

On November 6, Statistics Canada reported that the country lost 43,200 jobs in the month of October alone. It’s the kind of news that brings new meaning to the phrase “Stay in school, kids.”

A strong postsecondary education can be obtained in an affordable way, Mike Winsemann, transfer and technology manager for the B.C. Council on Admissions and Transfer, told the Georgia Straight.

“There are options for students to start their degree programs at a school where the tuition fees are lower,” Winsemann said in a phone interview. “Where it is closer to home so that you don’t have to move and incur high cost-of-living prices.”

He explained that in almost every region of British Columbia, there are local colleges where students can begin their postsecondary educations at roughly two-thirds to three-quarters the price of what they would pay at research-focused universities like Simon Fraser or UBC.

So students can take two years at a local college and live at home, and then transfer to a larger university, Winsemann said. “It is a really good strategy to employ to help still complete a degree in the same amount of time but at a lower cost.”

So for many, B.C.’s unique credit-transfer system provides a recipe for riding out the recession.

Unlike other provinces in Canada, B.C. has a highly coordinated system for transferring credits from colleges to universities, Winsemann said. He noted that if students visit, they will find more than 100,000 course-to-course transfer agreements already in place.

Jim Reed, president of B.C. Colleges, agreed that there is a “huge financial incentive” for students to begin their postsecondary careers at a college.

Reed recalled the recession of the early 1980s and a correlating spike in B.C. college enrollment, and he said that the same thing is happening today. He estimated that during the past year, enrollment in colleges is up 10 percent.

“We’re seeing a lot of different types of people coming to our doors,” he said. “Not only students who are saying, ”˜If there isn’t a job, I might as well continue my studies.’ ”

Both Winsemann and Reed noted that the process of transferring credits from one institution to another is, in most provinces, an arduous task. But in B.C., there is a long history of institutions working together to create transfer agreements.

Reed, however, said there is room for improvement in B.C.’s credit-transfer system.

In April 2007, a B.C. government report titled Campus 2020: Thinking Ahead included several recommendations for how to further improve credit-transfer processes in B.C. According to Reed, a lot of those suggestions have yet to be implemented.

“I think that any student that successfully completes a program of study in a college should be guaranteed a seat in another postsecondary institution,” he said, echoing the report’s suggestion that current credit-transfer programs be expanded.

Winsemann said that his office is always looking at ways to increase the amount of transfer information available and open new roads for students to move between postsecondary institutions.

He emphasized that the best way for students to take advantage of these options is to plan ahead.

“I would really encourage them to go to the B.C. Transfer Guide Web site before they register for [college] courses,” Winsemann said, “just to make sure that the courses they are registering for do transfer.

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