An associate of science degree is a fairly common credential in the United States.
But according to Jennifer Kelly, department leader of science at Vancouver Community College, it’s not nearly as well known in Canada.
"B.C. is the only province that offers them," she told the Straight by phone.
VCC’s associate of science degree program accepts new students three times a year—in September, January, and May.
Students complete two years of undergraduate science to earn a standalone credential, enabling them to analyze and interpret data collected through research or in the lab.
This associate degree of science can be applied to address real-world problems or be used as ladder to higher education.
“It can be used either to transition into a career or just to transfer into the third year of a four-year bachelor’s program,” Kelly explained.
She said that people who graduate from the two-year program will be qualified to work as a computer-support specialist. They might also be hired in a junior capacity in software development.
“SFU actually gives preferential admission to associate degree holders,” Kelly noted.
That’s because SFU bumps up the student’s grade-point average by a quarter of a point in the admissions process. That can make a difference between getting in or being turned away.
“UBC doesn’t do that, but they do guarantee full transfer credit for 60 credits for the associate degree,” she said. “That can save students quite a lot of hassle in the transfer process.”
Due to COVID-19, most VCC classes are being delivered remotely.
According to Kelly, instructors have worked exceptionally hard to keep classes as interactive and engaging as possible over Zoom.
VCC’s first associate degree is in computing science.
“In computing science, luckily, it is working very well,” Kelly said. “The students can share their screens, follow along with real-time changes to the code that the instructor is making, and so on.”
In the first year, there are 24 science credits—including biology, chemistry, and physics—along with six math credits and six English credits.
Second-year students take one introduction to statistics course and 24 more science credits. In addition, the second-year students are required to obtain six credits in arts courses other than English.
“We’ve got the go-ahead to do in-person chemistry labs, thank goodness,” Kelly said.
She pointed out that those with an aptitude for math, computing, and engineering might be interested in this program.
“It’s really about problem-solving and critical thinking as much as it is about practical training,” she said.
VCC offers small class sizes, with no more than 40 students. And students pay significantly lower tuition than what’s charged at B.C.’s research universities.
Kelly emphasized that VCC faculty love teaching and "they're good at it."
In the past, she added, mature students have often done very well in math or science at her college.
“They tell us later on that they didn’t think they were any good at math and science before they came to us,” she stated. “But we have this very supportive environment and show students what they’re capable of, which is quite gratifying.”
VCC has a diverse student body, demonstrating that people of all ages and culture backgrounds enjoy studying at its two campuses.
“Feeling like you belong is important to succeeding in education,” Kelly noted.